Resilience and opportunity

Title slide of Kristin Raub's PhD defense presentation. Shows her title, which is "Coastal resilience at the nexus of food, energy, and water systems: an interdisciplinary perspective for resilience planning."

While 2020 has been a challenging year, graduate students in the Watershed, Education, Science and Policy (WESP) Lab have dug deep to achieve a variety of successes – the most recent of which included Kristin Raub’s successful defense of her PhD dissertation on Friday, December 4. Kristin’s research on community resilience planning through a food, energy and water nexus lens involved conducting interviews of community planners, and assessing both peer-reviewed and grey literature (in this case, resilience plans of cities in the 100 Resilient Cities program) related to integration of the FEW nexus in coastal community resilience research and planning. Kristin’s defense presentation is available here for viewing. Plus, for those with interest in understanding her research in more depth, her first research chapter is published in Coastal Management. The full citation is: Raub, K. B., & Cotti-Rausch, B. E. (2019). Helping Communities Adapt and Plan for Coastal Hazards: Coastal Zone Management Program Recommendations for National Tool Developers. Coastal Management47(3), 253-268).

Kristin has accepted a postdoctoral position with CUAHSI, which is the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc.. This is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She will be continuing to explore a variety of research questions related to the FEW nexus and coastal community resilience that have arisen as she completed her dissertation.

On the same day Kristin defended, Rachel Pierson got word that her final edits to her MS thesis had been accepted by her committee, and she turned in all the paperwork to officially graduate. She will be among those recognized in a virtual ceremony on December 11 held by the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at UVM. Rachel is currently serving as Volunteer Coordinator with Volunteer Maryland at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, a service program she began just days after defending her thesis earlier this semester.

Photo of one of Stever Bartlett's research plots with the control (herbicide) and the treatment (till/mow) plots identified.

Earlier this fall, Stever Bartlett’s research was featured in a news article as he prepared his study plots for spring tree planting. Learn more about his research here. Funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, and carried out in partnership with UVM Extension’s Kate Forrer and Alison Adams, Stever’s research is the first to be conducted to support efforts of the new Watershed Forestry Partnership.

To further support the Watershed Forestry Partnership, the WESP Lab will be bringing in one more graduate student in fall 2021. The available position will be funded by Lake Champlain Sea Grant. Alison Adams, Extension Forestry Coordinator and coordinator of the Watershed Forestry Partnership, and I will be reviewing applications and interviewing potential students in the next few months. The selected student will engage in social science research focused on exploring landowners’ motivations to install forested riparian buffers on their land. Learn more about this position and how to apply here.

In closing, I wish everyone who has the ability to follow guidance of public health officials the strength to continue to be diligent in wearing face coverings, avoiding indoor gatherings with small or large groups, and keeping physically-distanced from everyone from outside your household if you must be in proximity to them. Vaccines are coming, but we have many months to go before they are available to the broad population. Finally, I extend deepest gratitude to both health professionals who are providing care to those who fall ill and other essential workers who face continued exposure to the virus due to their working conditions.

Another success!

After a long summer of analyses and writing, MS candidate, Rachel Pierson, successfully defended her thesis, entitled An International Pilot Study of Volunteer Stream Monitoring Groups: The Role of Place Attachment in Volunteer Motivations, on Thursday, September 10, 2020. She shared findings about factor analysis describing motivations of volunteers to participate in volunteer stream monitoring programs in three countries: New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Her presentation is posted to the Lake Champlain Sea Grant YouTube page at: https://youtu.be/12MHzsrVmjs

Rachel will be making revisions to her thesis in the coming weeks, and working on peer-reviewed publications and data summaries for the programs that participated in the research study. Congratulations Rachel!

The week that felt like a year

Slide from Jason Scott's master's defense

I have many emotions flowing through me as I write this post. Here at the University of Vermont, we are on day 5 of COVID-19-driven isolation and telecommuting. At the moment, I am bursting with pride towards now successfully-defended master’s student, Jason Scott, and his fellow graduate students who have defended this week. Faced with this unprecedented world-wide situation, and thrown into using often new technologies to them, these students calmly, confidently, and competently have shared and defended their research findings.

Jason had a remote audience of almost 30 people this morning. As such, another of my current emotions is gratitude to all those who were able to carve out an hour to join in and learn from Jason, again, often using technologies that were new to them.

Back to Jason again, I am excited about the information he gathered, training he facilitated, and products he developed that will help improve the response and resilience to oil and other hazardous materials spills along Lake Champlain. His work lays a strong foundation for future efforts of Lake Champlain Sea Grant and numerous federal, regional, state and local partners to further improve our ability to prepare for and respond to oil and other hazardous materials spills. The last step of his efforts prior to departing to return full-time as an Active Duty Officer in the United States Coast Guard will be to work with our Lake Champlain Sea Grant communications lead to create a robust section of our website to share the training tools and resources he has developed and compiled to benefit marinas, first responders, and others during a spill response. For those with interest, the majority of his defense presentation is available to view here.

Another emotion I felt today was excitement. We found out late this afternoon, that Stever Bartlett has been accepted by the UVM Graduate College. This means he will begin his work as part of the WESP Lab this summer. Stever will be working with me and Kate Forrer, UVM Extension Community Forestry Specialist, and our newest Lake Champlain Sea Grant and UVM Extension hire, Alison Adams, on a riparian restoration research project funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

In a week that one meme suggested felt more like a year, and where feelings of fear and anxiety often dominated, I am grateful to have ended it with these positive results for these students. – Kris Stepenuck

Making Progress

All of the WESP Lab graduate students have exciting happenings related to their research right now.

Kristin Raub is due many congratulations, as she was recently named as one of two Thomas J. Votta scholarship winners for the 2019-2020 academic year at the University of Vermont. The scholarship is awarded to graduate students in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, the College of Engineering and Mathematics or the Grossman School of Business who seek to make a difference in “solving environmental problems and using Environmental Best Practices” to meet their goals – much like Thomas J. Votta had done in his life and career before his untimely death in 2009. Kristin’s research focuses on improving coastal resilience of communities by bringing together the food, water and energy sectors in preparedness planning and response. Learn about more her research with the following paper, which will become the first chapter of her dissertation: Raub, K. B. (2019). Coastal Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: Effects of Residential Proximity to the Coast, Climate Change Perceptions, and Attitudes Toward Government for Valuing Ecosystem Outcomes.

Kristin is also competing in the University of Vermont’s inaugural Three Minute Thesis competition. This global competition is for doctoral students who have passed their comprehensive exams. In the competition, they must share how their research is significant with a non-technical audience in just three minutes. There are two preliminary rounds at UVM. The first is March 16, 2020 at 7:00 PM in the Frank Livak Ballroom of the Davis Center. The second is March 19, 2020 also at 7:00 PM in the same location. The final round is scheduled for Friday, March 27, 2020 at 7:00 PM in the Sugar Maple Ballroom of the Davis Center on the UVM campus. Come learn from (and cheer for) her and her fellow competitors!


Rachel just returned from a research trip in New Zealand, where she worked with our partner, Dr. Amanda Valois (@what_fish_eat), a Freshwater Scientist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (@NIWA_NZ), and volunteers from a variety of volunteer steam monitoring programs on both the North and South Islands. Rachel was implementing the interview phase of her thesis research, following up on surveys done this past summer and fall. Her work was featured in a news article in Local Matters, a news agency on New Zealand’s North Island.

Photo by Local Matters, https://m.localmatters.co.nz/news/37047-us-researcher-probes-stream-volunteers.html
Rachel works with volunteers to learn their monitoring methods in New Zealand. Photo credit: Local Matters

In addition to this trip to New Zealand, Rachel has been busy with travel this fall and winter to conduct interviews with volunteers from all three of our project partners for her thesis research. She already visited volunteers in British Columbia, Canada, traveling with our partners from @LivingLakesCanada, Kat Hartwig and Rory Gallaugher, to meet with volunteers from across the province. Earlier, she traveled to several Mid-Atlantic states in the United States to meet with volunteers who have connections with our partner, Julie Vastine and the Dickinson College ALLARM program (@ALLARMWater). Rachel is anticipating defending her thesis in early May.


Speaking of defending, Jason Scott will be defending his master’s project on Friday, March 20. For anyone interested in see his presentation, that will take place in Aiken Center Room 311 on the UVM campus, and we have set up a Zoom webinar for those who would like to join remotely. That information follows his defense proposal abstract below.

Lake Champlain faces numerous complex environmental threats that do not have simple solutions. Oil and other types of hazardous materials spills are among those threats that continue to attract the attention of agencies and organizations trusted to protect the lake. There is significant transportation infrastructure that exists in the region that, in the event of an accident, could lead to spills and extensive damage to natural resources. This project is intended to strengthen the ability of marina owners and first responders in the Lake Champlain Basin to prepare for and respond to oil and hazardous material spills by facilitating spill response training and providing important educational resources. The project is also intended to bolster federal, state and local spill planning efforts through development of the Physical Description of the Lake, which will serve as an appendix to the Multi- Agency Contingency Plan for Emergency Environmental Incidents in the Lake Champlain Region. Finally, the project is intended to increase awareness of available scientific information and expertise for spill response professionals through the development of a database of academic and scientific resources to support readiness for environmental incidents. The products generated for this project are intended to be useful for contingency planners, response personnel and resource managers engaged in spill response. The lake crosses international, federal and state jurisdictional boundaries which complicates preparedness and response in the event of a spill. This project is intended to help to unite the scientific and spill response communities in the Champlain Valley.


To join Jason’s defense via Zoom Meeting use the following link and/or dial-in information:
https://zoom.us/j/433439369
Meeting ID: 433 439 369
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Call me WESP

In Dutch, a wesp is a wasp or a yellow jacket, but here at the University of Vermont, WESP is an acronym for a lab – the Watershed, Education, Science and Policy Lab to be exact. Led by Dr. Kristine Stepenuck (she/her/hers), we are located within the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and associated with both UVM Extension and Lake Champlain Sea Grant.

Research of the lab follows two primary themes: 1) public participation in scientific research, otherwise known as volunteer monitoring or citizen science (along with a variety of other terms; for instance, see an ever-growing list of associated terms in the image below); and 2) broadly speaking, environmental resource management, especially as related to water resources, and related community action, response and resilience. This aspect of our work often, though not always, focuses on the Lake Champlain Basin.

If you aren’t familiar with Lake Champlain, it is sometimes mistakenly said to be the 6th largest lake in the United States. While it is large – 120 miles (193 km) long and 12 miles (19 km) wide at its widest – it’s not so big as to be the 6th largest in the U.S. (If we trust Wikipedia, the claim there is that it is the 13th largest by area and 14th largest by volume.)

Nonetheless, one boast Lake Champlain can make – which gives the WESP Lab a lot to work with – is that the land to watershed ratio in the basin is about 19:1. That is very large, especially as compared to the Great Lakes, which have land to water ratios in the range of 1.5:1 or 2:1. That means there is a huge land area draining to the lake, and therefore, the actions we humans take on the land have a significant impact on its water quality. The projects in which WESP Lab students and faculty engage generally have some application relevant to, or inform outreach to a specific target audience to help improve environmental conditions or economies. Learn more about who we are and what we do in the people section of this website.  

Various terms used to describe public participation in scientific research. Credit: Kris Stepenuck