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River Life 2012-13 Update

May 31, 2013Joanne RichardsonFormer Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on River Life 2012-13 Update

University of Minnesota on the Mississippi RiverThis past year has been extremely busy for River Life, as we began our transition from being administered by the Institute on the Environment to being a program of the Institute for Advanced Study.  The items below reflect both our strongly interdisciplinary nature, but also are the results of the work River Life has been able to achieve over the past 5 years with skeletal staff and resources.  Our challenge now is to build from that personal network into a substantial and substantive program at the scale of a world-class university on a world-class river.

  • We are working with National Park Service staff on a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Park Service that would put in writing and systematize some of the most important strategic connections we have with them.
  • We are working with the full-length Mississippi River Network of (to date) 45 organizations focused on gaining broad popular grassroots support for the Mississippi River and its health.  We also have begun discussions about building a parallel network of colleges and universities along the river.  Two other large-scale off campus efforts that we are tied to include Big River Works and the America’s Great Watershed Initiative.  Both are very promising, and offer important connections for us; likewise I believe we bring a great deal of value to them.
  • Our Honors seminars are modeling education for “nonsiloed” professionals; we’re proposing another seminar next year that will make that aspect even more pronounced.
  • We completed a commissioned report “A River on the Brink” exploring the systemic threats to the Mississippi River and some possible approaches to solving those threats.
  • Pat Nunnally taught 4 classes enrolling a total of 275 students and mentored many more, including UROP (2), Honors thesis (2), MLA thesis (9), MSLA thesis (1).  We continue to work toward stronger alignment between “programming in the classroom” and the broader River Life enterprise.
  • Our planning for a River Life Issues Forum next fall on aquatic invasive species will propose a “systems approach” to the subject.   Our planning for the Forum will include the National Park Service and other local and regional partners, adding value to their own work and strengthening our partnerships.
  • We’re working with UMN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) and their focus on curriculum around water and experiential education.  We believe that this “leading through change” is something vital that we convey to our students.
  • Our River Rangers student group has been very active with recreational activities, service projects, career development workshops and educational programs.  We have 600 on the group list, but usually we get 10 or fewer at our meetings and events.  Another great area to build on, and where we’re seeing improvements every year!   River Rangers was also featured on the cover of the winter edition of U Matters.
  • We are part of the successful proposal from the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes to the Mellon Foundation to conduct research and programming on the “environmental humanities.”
  • We conducted two “whither River Life” brainstorming sessions with faculty in the fall.
  • We generated a steady stream of information on a number of river-related topics, using digital media platforms as a basis for research reporting and community building with partners both on and off campus.
  • Pat Nunnally presented the keynote talk at the 10th Henry Farnam Dinner at the Quad Cities, hosted by regional partner River Action.
  • We conducted a small number of River Walks, at one of which we met a new community partner, Kianga Ford.

Part of our strategic planning (moving from being an informal, opportunistic network to a regular program) has focused on our program’s values or principles: impact, learning, context, boundary spanning.  We’re also beginning to chart our impact both for the U and off campus, working toward a ‘sweet spot” that ranks highly on both axes of the graph.

Looking Ahead

In addition to preparing for the 2014-15 Sawyer Seminar, River Life is committed to the following program advancements in 2013-14:

  • a monthly public program in collaboration with the Aster Cafe and the “Sip of Science” program that the St. Anthony Falls Lab/National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics has been doing for a couple of years now.  We’ll start that up in the fall.
  • provide a “social media for early career scientists” track during the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics Summer Institute in August 2013;
  • work with a CFANS curriculum development team to revitalize the Water Resources minor into a challenge-based curriculum.
  • continue our teaching responsibilities, albeit with a reduced class load and with a greater emphasis on class-program ties;
  • continue our work using social media platforms as a basis for forming intellectual community and establishing a “river studies” knowledge base.
As always, you can follow our work through our web siteblog, on Twitter, or on Facebook, or just drop us a note via email!

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Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
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.