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WRM@50, continued

The result has been an abundance of workshop options. The program chair, with input from students and faculty, looks for projects that represent a current issue, where the workshop can make a contribution to a community, where an interested group or agency is willing to provide funding for supplies, sampling, surveys, printing and other costs, and where the agency or group will strive to implement the results.

“I consider a good project one where there is a good chance of it being implemented, where there’s a creative element to it that makes it fun, where you can come up with something interesting that nobody had thought of,” says Potter.

More than 40 communities across Wisconsin have benefitted from WRM workshops, with projects covering almost every kind of local water resource problem.

“Community after community gets $100,000 worth of free consulting that enables them to do a multimillion-dollar project. The students learn and the engagement is just tremendous. It’s the exemplar of the Wisconsin Idea,” says Born.


The summer workshops have been an enriching part of the WRM student experience. But a period of uncertainty seems woven into the first phase of each workshop project, which includes two semesters studying the problem and planning an approach prior to the on-the-ground summer project. Joeres says that pattern began with the Chippewa Flowage project.

“We had these meetings, and the students were really frustrated because they were used to being told what to do,” he recalls. “We heard a lot of criticism from students: The project wasn’t defined, it was fuzzy, and we spend a whole lot of time each week regrouping from where we were a week ago.”

Nearly a half-century later, Potter says the students go through the same process in virtually every workshop, a normal and necessary part of learning to manage a big, real-world project.

WRM Delavan Lake report
More than 40 communities across
Wisconsin have benefitted from
WRM workshops, with projects
covering almost every kind of local
water resource problem. View a map.

“In every one of them, after the first semester in the fall, people are scratching their heads, saying ‘what are we doing, we’re disorganized, we don’t have a plan.’ And by the next semester, it starts to click.” 

It also takes time for students to figure out their roles in the workshop. Like the faculty, they come from a variety of disciplines, and most have worked prior to returning to graduate school. Potter says the students bring a lot of expertise into the program that determines how they approach a project.

“It’s like putting together a sports team; until you bring everyone together you’re not sure what kind of offense you’re going to run,” he says. “So you have to see what kinds of passions and talents are there.”

If there’s a consensus opinion among WRM faculty, it’s that the program attracts exceptional students. That’s an attractive feature for the faculty who voluntarily participate.

Jean Bahr, a professor of geosciences, was recruited by Joeres to serve on the WRM committee soon after she arrived at UW-Madison in 1987. She had begun to learn about WRM from students taking her classes or pursuing a double degree with geology.

“That gave me early exposure to the students in the program and its interdisciplinary strengths,” Bahr says. “There are opportunities to interact with talented students from a variety of backgrounds and to work with a variety of stakeholders to promote management and protection of water resources. Those are the greatest rewards for participation.”

Like other WRM faculty, she doesn’t look for program applicants who are on a fevered mission to save the Earth. Rather, the best candidates for admission tend to have a realistic view of environmental challenges and want to do their part to help.

Such was the case with Mary Ellen Vollbrecht, who earned her master’s degree in 1981. Vollbrecht is the groundwater section chief with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“I was interested in several scientific fields but most of all hoped to be able to help solve environmental problems,” she says. “WRM teaches how to use diverse data, how to help people understand data and how to develop management systems, and the workshop gives you a chance to try what you’ve learned in the real world.”

Vollbrecht says her participation in the 1981 Koshkonong Creek workshop, which developed a watershed management plan in eastern Dane County, has helped her throughout her career.

“I’ve used two lessons from the workshop over and over,” she says. “The simple existence of data doesn’t lead to workable decisions; people need a chance to ask their own questions,develop relationships and understand options. And I learned that a big part of making progress is getting started.”

For alumna Rebecca Wodder, WRM provided the tools to build a career in both the nonprofit sector and government. Wodder worked as an aide to Gaylord Nelson, led the national advocacy group American Rivers for 16 years, and capped her career as a senior advisor to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on river and water issues.

She credits Steve Born and the late Bud Jordahl as her most influential professors.

“Steve and Bud were not only great teachers, but they also were involved in both state and federal government and had a lot of great relationships within those sectors,” she says. “WRM was important at the beginning of my career and all the way through.”

Wodder says the kind of training offered by WRM is more critical than ever.

“Every day we see more and more evidence of the importance of fresh water and the looming threats to fresh water,” she says. “It’s our most important resource, it’s a limited resource, and we can’t live without it. So to have people trained and capable in that field is critical.”

Henry Hart: A Remembrance

By Barbara Borns

Editor’s note: Henry Hart was an innovative presence at UW-Madison from his hiring onto the political science faculty in 1948 until his retirement in 1982. Hart, who passed away last November, was a true interdisciplinarian, working between departments and programs to help create new areas of research and education in political science, South Asian studies and environmental studies. Barbara Borns worked with him when she joined the Nelson Institute staff in 1980 as the graduate student advisor, a position she held until her retirement in 2003.

Henry Hart
Henry Hart, 1916-2014

Henry Hart was an influential leader in the Nelson Institute in the early 1980s and a powerful advocate for interdisciplinary studies, which inspired his early role in starting the Water Resources Management program. Having worked at the Tennessee Valley Authority, he understood the need for an interdisciplinary approach to solving watershed problems. But in addition to being a strong academic and integrative thinker, Henry was also an interesting person. Living in India during his early life gave him different perspectives on our American lifestyle and politics.

When I began work in the Nelson Institute (then known as IES) in 1980, Henry was the chair of academic programs. He invited me to the first faculty meeting shortly after I began.It was all pretty new to me at the time, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. But imagine my surprise when Henry called me at home that night to apologize for failing to introduce me at the meeting. Shortly after that, he invited me to take our bag lunches to Muir Woods,which until that day I didn’t even know existed. He told me about John Muir and his association with UW-Madison, an important historical legacy.

Henry chaired the institute’s academic programs for several years. He happily attended the celebration when the undergraduate major in environmental studies was finally approved in 2011, even though he had to bring his oxygen tank along with him. He was well into his 90s and his mind was sharp as a tack, recalling people and events I had forgotten.

I also recall his amazing woodworking skills, a hobby he pursued with great relish that resulted in many lovely pieces, one of which I still treasure in my home. He and his wifeVirginia were active members of the Madison community, contributing their time and talents to environmental and social causes.


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