Vol. 5, No. 1 - October 7, 2005

$200K Grant to Support ES Water Resources Initiative

A $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will support the development of a Water Resources Initiative (WRI) administered by Skidmore's Environmental Studies Program. The WRI will provide an ongoing focus for student research and faculty scholarship while offering new opportunities for interdisciplinary study and collaboration.

ES Director Karen Kellogg explained that the WRI will help to ensure "true interdisciplinary immersion" for ES students. "The WRI allows us to concentrate on a specific issue and explore the issue from multiple, interrelated perspectives - for example, how do political, economic, historic, social, cultural, and natural sciences views relate and influence how we use our water resources," she said.

In addition, the WRI will promote long-term research and analysis. An important component of this goal is ES 375, Case Studies in Environmental Sustainability, the capstone course for ES majors. "The heart of the course for the next several years will be community-based research projects involving the Saratoga Lake watershed," said Kellogg. This research is a common thread that carries through other courses, collaborative research, student independent study, and faculty research, she added.

As an example of the research that is at the heart of WRI, Kellogg cited the work that she and others pursued this past summer. She, Michael Ennis-McMillan, associate professor of anthropology, and students Allison Stafford and Erin Black, both Class of '06, worked collaboratively on a stakeholder analysis of Saratoga Springs water use. The team conducted interviews with 23 different individuals who are interested in the future of the city's water resources. Using ethnographic research methods, the team is analyzing the concerns of four key groups: business and industry, government, civic organizations, and residents. They plan to publish the results in an academic/scientific journal (the students will receive co-author credit) and to perhaps make them available to the public.

Stafford said she appreciated receiving hands-on exposure to a real-world issue over the summer and was surprised to see the impact of politics on what she had thought was primarily an environmental issue. The top concern mentioned by respondents was the impact of development on water use, she added.

Currently a second-semester junior who transferred to Skidmore in her sophomore year, Stafford is pursing a double major in theater and ES with a concentration in geosciences and a focus on hydrology.

This semester Stafford is continuing independent study on the project. She and Black will summarize their work in an upcoming meeting with ES junior majors, to help them begin planning their senior-year capstone projects. "Hopefully, our work will spark questions that the juniors will decide to research," said Stafford. "That way, the juniors will learn from the seniors, and new projects will build on earlier ones," she added. The WRI's emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary study helps to foster mentoring among students, according to Kellogg.

Besides integrating curriculum and collaborative research, the WRI also emphasizes civic engagement. Kellogg envisions long-term partnerships with such groups as the Friends of the Kayaderosseras and Siena College (which is hopeful of engaging Skidmore in collaborations with its Environmental Science and Biology departments). "It would be great to have Skidmore recognized as the hub that unites organizations concerned with local water use, as well as other conservation issues. Students will be getting to know the community during their first-year courses and more intimately as they progress through the major," according to Kellogg.

The Arthur Vining Davis funds also will support guest speakers and external workshop leaders for more in-depth exploration of water-related issues. In addition, the grant will provide funds for faculty to develop comparative national/international studies to place local research in a global context. "We are so grateful to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for making this exciting initiative possible for our students, faculty, and community," said Kellogg.


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