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University of Minnesota

So, What Have You Been Up To?

February 21, 2013Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on So, What Have You Been Up To?

When we run into old friends on the street (or on Facebook, our virtual community du jour) this is often one of the first questions that gets asked:  “What have you been up to?”  Usually friendly enough, of course, but loaded with pitfalls:  Do I really say all the great stuff I’m doing, sounding like I’m bragging?  Or do I “pull a Minnesota”:  “Oh, not too much.” And what level of detail:  does the world really want to hear the blow-by-blow of the latest office kerfluffle, or will a high-level view suffice?

Boldly wading into these treacherous waters, here’s a “Reader’s Digest condensed version” of what River Life has been doing lately.  And if you don’t get the reference, track down someone born in the 1950s or before; they’ll probably remember.

River Life is part of a team in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (CFANS) that is developing a pilot project to bring experiential learning to first-year students in one of the majors.  Beginning next fall, we’ll take about 30 students to southwest Minnesota to visit a farm or two and learn about agricultural conservation practices.  We’ll then look into water quality and water quality improvement efforts in the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities, making the connection between farm and river explicit.

We also just finished a report and delivered it to the National Park Service, titled “A River on the Brink.”  We were asked to write about existing conditions and threats to significant resources along the Mississippi River.  After determining that threats to individual resources were always parts of broader systemic dynamics, we wrote about threats such as declining water quality, aquatic invasive species, and incompatible floodplain development.

River Life and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) are leading the formation of a group that is proposing a Sawyer Seminar (Mellon Foundation) on “new narratives to encompass the human relationships with rivers.”  If rivers are both “natural” and “human constructed,” how can we define better our role and responsibilities with them?

The IAS, which is River Life’s “home program,” is part of an international award from the Mellon Foundation on “Humanities for the Environment.” Working with other members of the Consortium on Humanities Centers and Institutes, we will gather and disseminate “environmental stories, particularly those associated with rivers and water.  The River Atlas will serve as a model tool for this project.

We are continuing our long-time association with the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board by working on a number of projects relating to interpretive planning and long-range planning for particular sections of the Heritage Zone (near downtown Minneapolis).  Of particular note is a project being completed by students that is developing a pilot “augmented reality” project for interpretation/storytelling of two of the area’s most distinctive historic features.

Finally, to illustrate that students across the University are “getting it” with regard to the Mississippi River, we have the following student oriented projects in the works:  9 Masters students in Landscape Architecture working on thesis capstone projects on river subjects; River Rangers student group (570 on the membership listserv) has held five events this year; three ongoing University Honors Program research internships and 6 completed last summer; beginning efforts with faculty cohorts in CEHD and CSE to broaden curriculum and student engagement programs.

A world-class university in a national park on a world-class river–building our programs to that scale.


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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.