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Water, workshops and the Wisconsin Idea

Spring/Summer 2015 | By Paul Robbins

How’s this for a successful academic formula: consistently attract top graduate students from around the country, bring together brilliant UW faculty from a variety of disciplines, and have them team up to tackle complex water-related problems faced by Wisconsin communities.

The Nelson Institute’s Water Resources Management (WRM) program has been training water professionals this way for 50 years, capping their graduate education with a summer practicum affectionately known around these parts as the “WRM workshop.” Dozens of communities across the state have benefitted from these annual workshops. I can’t think of a better example of the Wisconsin Idea.

This issue of In Common explores the past half-century of the Water Resources Management program and looks to its future. We don’t have space in these pages to tell all the wonderful stories WRM has generated across the years, but we hope you get a sense of the impact this program has had on students, the state and the UW community, and of the extraordinary leadership, time and effort put into it by dozens of committed faculty members, usually on a volunteer basis. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the country.

Nelson Institute Director Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins. Photo courtesy
Chengdu Institute of Biology.

We’re planning to mark the 50th anniversary of this extraordinary program with an alumni gathering and symposium in September. And I’m pleased to announce that we’ll be launching the next 50 years of WRM with the establishment of a new UW-Madison Professorship in Water Resources, made possible by a remarkable gift from longtime Nelson Institute supporters John and Linda Nelson, with additional support from other donors and a university-wide matching fund program. 

This is a stunning and transformative development. It guarantees perpetual support for a faculty member to chair and direct WRM. The program will continue to attract great students who will become outstanding alumni ready to take on some of the most critical resource challenges we face. It will provide the center of gravity for interdisciplinary teamwork among UW faculty around water resource education, research and outreach. And it will do so while working with cities and towns across Wisconsin to improve the health of their lakes and streams, which drive economic development, jobs, recreation and local identity.

That these gifts come as we face deep cuts in state funding of the UW System – and trust me, we are feeling the pain of those cuts across the Nelson Institute – is all the more gratifying. We’re working hard to raise funds for a number of professorships to ensure that we can continue to teach, conduct research and engage with communities in areas like energy, climate change, health and the environmental humanities.

We’re making great strides, thanks to the generosity of alumni, friends and supporters, whose gifts both large and small are critical in helping us preserve and build upon the Nelson Institute legacy. We’ll soon share more details about some of the innovative ways we’re working to support our faculty and students in these fiscally challenging times. In the meantime, my door is always open to explore how you can help support WRM or any of our world-class programs.

Paul Robbins sig
Paul Robbins
Director, Nelson Institute 

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