Program and People News
Wisconsin Sends a Record Three Knauss Fellows
This year a record three Wisconsin graduate students were selected for the Dean John A. Knauss Fellowship—Caroline Mosely, Catherine Simons and Kristina Surfus. This competitive program matches highly qualified graduate students with “hosts” in the legislative and executive branches of government located in Washington, D.C., for a one-year paid fellowship. All three are graduates of UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences (SFS), and all three are tremendously bright and ambitious. They’ve come to the program from different directions, but each has extensive academic and field experience. To meet them, read on.
Given that even her advisor has trouble keeping up with Caroline Mosley, Washington may want to think about preparing itself.
For the last two years, she’s been helping Harvey Bootsma, an associate professor with SFS, with his research on the effects aquatic invasive species are having on Lake Michigan’s ecosystem.
Well, that and maybe just a few things more.
“What impresses me about Caroline is her initiative and confidence,” said Bootsma. “Over the two years we have worked together, Caroline has repeatedly surprised me by taking the lead on a number of high-profile outreach and service activities, including the organization of a Run4Water day, serving as president of the UWM Student Water Council, representing students on our school’s Planning and Governance Committee and traveling to Guatemala to work with Engineers Without Borders on a water supply project.”
“I can’t keep up with all these initiatives,” he added. “I usually learn about Caroline’s involvement after the fact.”
Did we mention that Mosley’s also fluent in German and ran the Boston Marathon this year?
She was born in West Bend, Wis., and she dual-majored as an undergraduate at Creighton University in Nebraska. She began her educational career with designs on medical school, until sophomore year when a freshwater ecology course shifted her sights to environmental science.
“I’ve always been interested in applied science,” Mosley said. “Fresh water is such an important resource. The pieces just fell into place,” she said.
Her timing couldn’t have been more opportune. She arrived at SFS just in time to watch the school invest millions in a new facility and several major water-based initiatives. Joe Fillingham, a former UW Sea Grant Knauss Fellow (2011) who’s also working with Bootsma as a research assistant, encouraged Mosley to apply for the Knauss program.
“I’m happy there’s a program like this for people like me,” she said.
Mosley has always liked to work with her hands, which makes the scientific work she’s been doing with Bootsma so perfect for her. She’s spent the last two years examining the process of phosphorus recycling by profunda quagga mussels.
“Basically, I’m looking at mussel poop,” she joked.
It’s a flip assessment, given that the work she’s doing is actually critical to understanding the massive changes the mussels are wreaking on Lake Michigan’s food web. As the mussels drain the lake of nutrients at an almost alarming rate, Mosley and Bootsma’s work could help us understand where those nutrients are going once the mussels have filtered them—potentially into the sediment, potentially converting to biomass.
It’s a case where that hands-on approach she loves so much comes in, um, handy. On a recent collection trip, Mosley captured, cleaned and collected phosphorous samples from a whopping 500 mussels.
Working in an office, which is what she’ll be doing as part of NOAA’s executive team once her fellowship begins, won’t give her nearly as much opportunity to get her hands wet and dirty, but she said she’s prepared for the challenge. In particular, her experience with Engineers Without Borders in Guatemala has prepped her to work with people.
“I like expanding my horizons,” she said. “So it’ll be interesting to learn about the legal and policy side of things. I just keep finding more things to do.”
Catherine Simons operates her life by a fairly simple and determined principle: If something looks like it’s never going to work, make a way.
It’s what she’s used to navigate her winding and far-flung educational career, a road that’s taken her from rural Boscobel, Wis., to Minnesota and Tanzania.
Immersing herself in the intricacies of the federal government’s policy wing is something Simons has had her eye on for some time. She knew she had to bolster a social-science background with some hard science to reach her professional goals.
“It was an intentional leap to get my hands dirty with the science,” she said. “I wanted to pursue something scientifically rigorous but [that] had policy implications.”
That’s what led her to SFS. Simons was listening to National Public Radio when she heard Jenny Kehl, director of SFS’s Center for Water Policy, taking about international freshwater conflicts. She realized she’d found her ideal academic advisor.
Over the next few years, the two would team up on several projects related to international trans-boundary water-use issues, as well as Simons’ master’s thesis, which compared the water quality of tap and bottled water in ten major cities, including Milwaukee.
Simons also assisted UW Sea Grant social scientist Jane Harrison in surveying anglers about their reactions to massive cleanup efforts in the Sheboygan River Area of Concern.
“Catherine shows a strong commitment to environmental policy, practice, science and governance,” said Kehl. “Her combined interests in science and policy are innovative, and she has high abilities in both, which is a rare combination.”
Simons’ interest in international economic and water issues actually began at a young age, inspired by a visit her family took to spend with her uncle, who was working at the time as an international development consultant in Malawi. Simons would return to Africa after graduating from high school in Manitoba, Canada, spending a year in Zambia working with street children infected with HIV.
While in Africa, she took several side trips, including a jaunt to Tanzania. It was like a bolt of lightning for Simons.
"I got off the train and was blown away,” Simons recalled. “I thought, ‘This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen."
Simons was especially drawn to the elegance of Swahili, Tanzania’s national language. It’s one of the reasons she chose to matriculate at the University of Minnesota, one of the handful of American universities that included it in the language program.
Minnesota also offered an unusual international student exchange program with the main university in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital city. Simons filled out the appropriate forms (“it was probably more writing than I did for the Knauss program,” she joked) and got accepted—only to discover that security issues in Tanzania caused the program to be cancelled.
So again, she found a way.
Under the guidance of sociologist Ron Aminzade, Simons developed her own undergraduate research project, eventually winning a $1,700 grant, combining it with her own savings and spending eight months researching the effects of invasive water hyacinth and decreased water levels on local communities living on the shores of Lake Jipe, a lake straddling the borders of Tanzania and Kenya.
“There were many complex issues beyond Lake Jipe’s obvious environmental degradation, the most challenging being the divergent priorities of local stakeholders, the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments, regional industries and international NGOs,” she said. “I learned that science and policy go hand in hand.”
Since graduating from SFS with her master’s degree in water policy in May, Simons has taken a trip to Turkey and Greece during which she attended an international economics conference, and she’s eager to be back in Washington, D.C.—all the better to move toward one of her career goals: working for the United Nations.
“I’m anxious to get going on what my career path will be,” said Simons. “If it involves international and water, I’d be set.”
Kristina Surfus is drawn to water.
It’s something she’s always known about herself, but it was recently driven home as she searched for photographs of herself in response to a writer’s request. Everything she could find included or was related to water: A picture of her kayaking on the tranquil Milwaukee River. A picture of her struggling through falling water in the Julian Alps in Slovenia. Even a professional photo of her taken in Milwaukee backdrops her against a window showing rain falling on the streets of the city, a subtle echo of her interests in sustainable urbanism and water management.
That love of water continues to drive her life, and it’ll soon sweep her toward Washington, D.C. Surfus already has some Beltway experience under her belt—while she was an undergrad at Boston University, she served as an intern in the office of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, where she got some first-hand experience with policy making.
“I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned in a legislative setting,” she said of her return to the nation’s capital. ”I’m looking forward to getting more working experience in coastal resource management and a stronger sense of how it all comes together in the policymaking world.”
When she began at Boston, she was a tentative biology major, unsure of her path. By the time she was done, she held degrees in international relations and environmental analysis and policy.
Surfus was born and raised in Milwaukee, but when it came to her post-graduate academic and professional development—a focus on urban planning and water resource management, please—she figured she’d have to search elsewhere, maybe toward the east coast again, to find just the right program.
But it turned out that it was in her front yard all along. SFS gave Surfus the opportunity to delve into freshwater economic policy. Most recently, Surfus has been working side-by-side with SFS Professor Sandra McLellan on a project examining the causes and economic impacts of degraded beaches in Milwaukee.
“Kristina’s making great contributions to our Sea Grant project,” said McLellan. “She does everything from dropping current meters into the lake to working on the economic analysis that will tell us what a healthy beach is worth. Her background and personality have allowed her to jump into all these activities and get results.”
It’s been a blast for Surfus as well.
“I’ve really appreciated the chance to work in a lab and do more of the research and lab work than I thought I would,” she said. “It’s been pretty remarkable how it’s all worked out. I’m really excited to be exactly where I’m at.”
Fresh on the heels of graduating from SFS with a master’s degree in freshwater science, Surfus dove in to complete a second master’s degree in economics, also at UW-Milwaukee, while continuing her research.
“Kristina exemplifies a truly interdisciplinary researcher who will be able to address some of our biggest challenges because she has well-rounded experience in both the natural and social sciences,” said McLellan.
Surfus is aiming for a career that combines coastal research policy and management, and she’d love to return to the Great Lakes region to pursue it.
“I have a real passion and appreciation for the region,” Surfus said.