Spring 2021 Director's Corner


Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I start this column by sharing the news that Deborah Swackhamer passed away earlier this spring. Among many other leadership roles during her distinguished career, Deb served as co-Director of the WRC from 2002 to 2014. We have heard remembrances from people who knew her as a field-shaping scientist, as a gifted teacher and dedicated mentor, and as an inspiring academic leader. In the WRC we also remember Deb as a co-worker and friend. Personally, I will always be grateful for her generous guidance as I started this job, and, of course, for the partnerships and legacy she built that continues to make much of our work possible. Chris Hansen, our Minnegram editor, worked closely with her for many years and wrote more about some of the ways Deb impacted the water resources world. Fittingly, a scholarship fund has been created in Deb’s memory to support graduate students studying water science and policy.  

At moments like this, we truly feel the physical distance wrought by the pandemic. Essentially all our work continues to be done remotely, but in the coming months we will begin a phased return to working in our St. Paul campus offices. The University plans to return fully to normal operations by the fall semester. When that comes to pass, I for one will have a new appreciation for things that seemed completely unremarkable before, like the sights of students walking around campus and gathering in classrooms.

While working at home comes with challenges for many, WRC staff have continued to push our work forward. In a major milestone, the first wave of projects in our new Watershed Innovations (WINS) program began this spring. The WINS program replaces and substantially expands the WRC’s previous Annual Grants Competition, aiming to develop new interdisciplinary collaborations. Program coordinator Adam Wilke describes the aims of the WINS program and introduces the first set of projects.  

Studying and doing much of their research from home, our graduate students in the Water Resources Science program continue to do creative work that enriches our learning community. Xiang Li, a WRS PhD student, and John Nieber, co-director of graduate studies for the WRS program, write about a series of workshops that Xiang developed and taught on machine learning techniques. The workshop, ‘machine learning for non-machine learners,’ was offered to other WRS students who may want to use it in their research.

Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find articles from our Extension educators  on timely topics as we transition from spring to summer. Anne Sawyer answers the question of whether you can ever have too much organic matter in your home garden, and Amy Shrank explains how hybrid cattails affect ecosystems in lake shorelines.   

Wishing you a pleasant summer,