WRC newcomer Maggie Karschina moves projects ahead despite Covid hurdles
Maggie Karschnia joined the Water Resources Center and Minnesota Sea Grant as an Extension Educator August 2021. Starting a new job mid-pandemic had some unique challenges. Minnegram asked Karschnia about how her new work experiences and projects fared with the COVID backdrop.
Can you tell Minnegram about projects that you are working on?
With help from the wonderful staff at the Water Resources Center and the Minnesota Sea Grant, I’ve been able to jump into quite a few projects in my first few months, despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic during my onboarding. The three main programs I’m currently working with are: The Watershed Game, the Minnesota Stormwater Research and Technology Transfer Program, and the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officers (NEMO) Program.
The Watershed Game was developed by Minnesota Sea Grant and University of Minnesota Extension and is a board game that features a series of active, hands-on simulations that help participants learn how land-use decisions impact water quality and natural resources. The program has been going through some exciting updates recently, which includes a new Coast Model of the Local Leader Version of the Watershed Game. This new model focuses on a coastal or estuary community and incorporates community resilience and nitrogen reduction in addition to phosphorus and sediment reduction that are addressed in the other stream, lake and river models. We’re currently developing a Classroom Version of the Coast Model that is aimed to be released this fall. It’s been incredibly rewarding to work with this well-established program, helping to facilitate trainings, updating the website, brining the sales of the game online, and helping to line up a variety of trainings and game demonstrations for 2022.
A portion of my time is also dedicated to the technology transfer component of the Minnesota Stormwater Research Program. The Water Resources Center and the Minnesota Stormwater Research Council developed this program to engage stormwater professionals and researchers in studying practices and policies to advance stormwater management in Minnesota. I’ve met with several researchers to learn more about their stormwater projects, and to help them figure out the best ways to bring their research results and recommendations into the hands of those that can use it, from practitioners to policymakers to the general public. Each project is different from the next, so the opportunities and best ways to market the research are individualized.
Lastly, I’ve been spending some time getting familiar with the past Water Resources Center activities in the NEMO Program. Many of the previous NEMO events targeted at watershed education to elected and appointed officials resulted in the support and implementation of future water quality projects. After talking with staff from the watershed districts that were involved in the NEMO events, it was clear that this outreach effort made significant impact on their programming. I’ve been exploring the possibility of bringing back vital components of the program and developing products that can be used to re-create these events around the state by local watershed groups.
How has the pandemic affected your work; is it all challenging or have there been some benefits?
The pandemic has been both a challenge and a benefit to onboarding. It’s often been challenging to connect with team members, as the organic water cooler conversations don’t happen in the virtual world. To meet new people and make new connections, it requires planning and effort. However, on the flip side, connecting with colleagues and partners outside of the main office has definitely been easier. We no longer have to consider commute time when attending meetings, and that frees up some space on the calendar for additional activities and connection opportunities. Two years into the pandemic, we’re all now familiar with Zoom and they feel more natural, so the awkward days of virtual meeting etiquette fails are thankfully over.
One of the stated goals of your position was to help Minnesotans use stormwater research practically. Can you name any specific instances of progress toward that goal?
While most of my first few months were focused on getting oriented, I have been able to make some initial progress towards this goal. There are three distinct audiences when we talk about using stormwater research practically: practitioners, policymakers, and the general public. Initial discussions with the MPCA and partners this past fall about the latest stormwater research revealed a need for additional outreach and education around enhancing street sweeping programs to meet water quality goals. We’ve started progress towards exploring what this would look like, and it will be a focus area in 2022, as well as other opportunities that have been identified.
For the policymaker audience, I have started having initial conversations with my water resource network and reviewed past surveys to this group. Nonpoint Education to Municipal Officers (NEMO) has taken place in events across the state in the past and has resulted in successful implementation of new stormwater projects and programs. There is an opportunity to re-assess and update the NEMO program that would include a new component of adding current research to the outreach materials and events. This will ensure that policymakers across the state are aware of the latest stormwater research and are using it to make the most informed decisions.
Lastly, translating the stormwater research into something that the general public can practically use varies widely from project to project. To start, I’ve been working with researchers on fact sheets for the public which includes practical information for them to use when applicable. We’ll also be developing short videos for each project in 2022 so that the public can understand the research and how their local communities can use the information. Some information, such as the latest research on pre-treatment recommendations for raingardens, we’re making sure will be used to update existing information for landowners through U of M and for future projects.
Have there been any happy surprises, unexpected positives thus far in your WRC experience?
I would say there are two happy surprises in this new position. One is how much I’m able to still work with my existing professional network in the Minnesota stormwater world. It’s wonderful to be able to maintain these connections and to start making lasting impacts in the field that I have dedicated many years to.
Another surprise would be the incredible network of experts I am now connected to at the U of M. As I hold a joint position with the Water Resources Center and the Minnesota Sea Grant, I feel doubly fortunate in the expansive networks of wonderful people that I’m connected to. I have yet to look for an answer amongst the U of M educators and researchers that I have been unable to find. It’s quite remarkable that we have such an incredible depth of knowledge.