UMN alumnus Joel Larson at home in new role as WRC associate director

New WRC Associate Director Joel Larson is not missing his east coast office commute. As the acting Director for the Southeast Climate Hub and living just outside DC, Joel and his wife Amelia counted commuting time to daycare and the office as family time, as they were rarely home during waking hours.

Born in Kansas, raised in Des Moines, Joel left Iowa in high school to attend a two year international school program in New Mexico, one of 10 campuses around the world that recruited 25% of the student body from the host country and rest of the students from abroad. After this taste of internationalism, Joel enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul, which attracts a number of international students. He never did take an International studies course; a required freshman geography class grabbed his imagination, and he was hooked.

It was the relationships between the landscape and people that interested him. For example, how water policy in the western US historically focused on “beneficial uses” such as drinking water and irrigation, which continues to drive the complex interactions between legal, political, ecological, and socioeconomic environments. Understanding and responding to those relationships is challenging, but he embraced it as part of his work at the Bureau of Land Management and the Southwest Climate Hub. “I try to make the science accessible and policy options acceptable to the range of stakeholders in the agricultural, forestry and rural communities as they make decisions about water management and conservation planning,” said Joel.

Learning how policy is created at the local, state and federal levels drew him to the graduate program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where base skills such as leadership and management are taught to be applied in any technical field. Joel has taken the analytical and “soft skills”—those tools and techniques that promote a positive work environment—and used them to facilitate an environment where teams and individuals not only get their work done but also thrive. His broader understanding of technical subjects enables him to help his teams effectively do their work.

On the job at the Water Resources Center, Joel looks forward to working in a more hands-on environment, where the effects of programs and policies put in place are more visible as all of the players work together for a common goal. At the national level, it was difficult to see the cause and effect of his work, but not impossible.  After arriving in Minnesota, Joel was reading a Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) publication that included five principles for the upcoming work. They were the same principles that his office in DC had written three years before to help the agriculture and forest industries respond to climate change. “Here was proof that the work I had done on the federal level did in fact make a difference to the people on the ground, in the trenches,” said Joel.

His new work commute? A walk through tranquil St. Anthony Park. Quality family time? Spent at home with Amelia, two-year-old Soren and Alice, the family’s lab/shepherd mix. Total relaxation? Not quite. More like happy anticipation.  A new little Larson arrives in March.

“We all work, live, and play in an environment of some kind: urban, rural, or in between. I hope to build relationships between individuals and communities by highlighting the role that water plays in connecting all of us.”