You are here

Future Shock

Wanted: PhDs in H20

Educating the next generation of water quality stewards
University Business, Jun 2010

The 1798 poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge states, "Water, water everywhere / Nor any drop to drink."

Since the times of the ancient mariner, fresh, potable water has been a scarce commodity around the world. Clearly, in the new global economy, clean water will be the leading pathway to 21st-century scientific discovery. It is equally clear that because of its dominant role in research and innovation, the science of protecting and restoring water resources will be the DNA of our planet's long-term sustainability.

When you stop to think about it, most of us take clean water for granted as if this precious resource was unlimited. Just consider our domestic consumption, agricultural irrigation, industrial manufacturing and commercial uses, watering lawns and gardens, washing cars, recreation, and ecotourism. To support our still growing demand, the United States has more than 55,000 water systems employing more than 30,000 water related employees and independent contractors.

A new generation of students are engaged in a varied array of water resource-related internships, practicum, and field experience.

At its epicenter, contemporary water research will connect the dots in new ways by weaving the interdisciplinary threads of environmental science, water quality control, natural resource management, aquatic biology, aquatic chemistry, hydrology, aquaculture, and marine science.

Baby boomers found scarce employment in the fields of environmental technology and bio-marine and aquatic sciences back in the 1960s and 1970s. Times have changed. Today, a new generation of undergraduate and graduate students are engaged in a varied array of water resource-related internships, practicum, and field experience.

Consider such venerable water resource programs of study and research as Purdue, Michigan State, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Heidelberg University (Ohio). By way of illustrative example, Heidelberg plays host to the National Center for Water Quality Research (NCWQR), a leader in surface and ground water research over the last forty years. Fitted out with the cutting edge water quality technologies and analytical tools, NCWQR researchers are finding new ways of protecting our precious water resources and restoring natural water shed. Further and significantly, Heidelberg faculty engages undergraduates in complex biochemical analysis of fresh water samples. Beyond the classroom and labs, faculty and students serve as natural resource advisors to aquatic communities, joined together by a common interest in water quality control, aquatic restoration, conservation, and environment protection.

Heidelberg's President Rob Huntington simply puts it this way. "Students have opportunities to be involved in the lab's research activities as interns or employees in lab or field research. Taking advantage of the team approach, faculty members often mentor student research projects, helping prepare our graduates for entry into the working world. In this way undergraduate students build a strong foundation for future graduate and post graduate studies in the fields of natural resource conservation, biology, chemistry, and aquatic and environmental sciences."

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.), and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.