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Remind Me Again: What Is River Life?

January 10, 2012Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Remind Me Again: What Is River Life?

imageLast week, I posted a set of accomplishments for 2011.  Now what?

We’ve thought a lot this year about who we are and what we should be doing.

We’re a university program, which means that we have a three part mission:  educate, research, and engage our community.  The previous list makes the first and last of these very evident; we’re “locked in” on community engagement and education.

Our research agenda is more complicated.  MG Michael Walsh, the former commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps of Engineers, challenged those of us working in the basin to develop a 200 year vision of the watershed.  Only when we thought out ahead that far, he argued, could we get a handle on the appropriate ways to invest the billions of dollars that it will take to ensure that the Mississippi River basin continues to serve the country.

We can, and probably will, develop our own 200 year vision of the watershed.  But we have heard at countless meetings, work sessions, conferences and symposia that what’s critically necessary is a way to understand what everyone else is doing.  There are literally hundreds of NGOS, thousands of government units (cities, counties, states), dozens of federal and state agencies, and incalculable private enterprises engaged every day in activity that affects the future of the Mississippi River and its watershed.

So our research agenda is to identify and locate the best work that is pointing us toward a sustainable future and inclusive planning agendas in the basin.  We don’t have a small area of knowledge that we know more about than anyone, and publish in a journal read only by specialists.  Nor do we publish in print or digital forums accessible to millions; that’s the work of others.  If we had to pick a term for our research (and we probably should) we’d go with “river restoration” or “restoring rivers.”  Plenty of complexity and richness there!

We connect good work to other good work, serving through our social media platforms, research collections, maps, and programs as vital connective tissue that holds the whole together.  People off campus have told us this is a need; we hope to fill it.

Where we’re going in 2012:

  •  Continue to work with U of M partners whose work is in alignment with ours, including the new  sustainability education network;
  • Continue to build out and market the River Life portals as “go to” sources of solid information on river science, planning, and community engagement;
  • Continue to build partner relationships with off campus agencies and NGOs where our students and our ability to convey a breadth and depth of information contribute measurably to their work;
  • Continue to reach students—future river leaders—in diverse ways, including classes, sponsoring and mentoring research projects, and leading program development;
  • Continue and try for higher profile/more assistance in discussions and programs shaping the future of the 3rd largest watershed in the world.  We have the capacity, over the next 2 decades to demonstrate sustainable rivers and model inclusive planning.
  • Improve program stability and durability.

We’re a world-class teaching and research university located in a national park on one of the world’s great rivers.  Moreover, we’re in a metropolitan area that is near the top of the watershed, sharing this distinction with Pittsburgh (Ohio River) and Bismarck (Missouri River).  We must take strategic advantage of that geographical fact and enable the University of Minnesota to lead the nation in developing pathways to river sustainability.


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River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.