What is the Freshwater Initiative?
Freshwater “flows” across many academic disciplines and sectors of society. Most issues surrounding freshwater are so complex that no single discipline can tackle these freshwater problems alone. To respond to growing research needs, faculty at the University of Washington (UW) College of Engineering, UW College of Environment, and UW Tacoma formed the Freshwater Initiative (FWI) in 2014. FWI researchers are committed to developing collaborative programs that make freshwater research relevant to scientists, decision-makers, and the public alike. This commitment resulted in the addition of four new freshwater faculty members and the formation the Mountain to Sea Strategic Research Initiative, which catalyzes freshwater sustainability research with support from multiple UW campuses and colleges.
In October 2017, twelve graduate students from the College of Engineering, College of Environment, and School of Medicine joined forces to form the FWI student steering committee. Together, we brainstormed what role FWI might play in helping students develop the research, communication, and professional skills needed to be successful in freshwater science. The result was a variety of proposed activities, communication outlets, and collaboration opportunities aimed at promoting connectivity in freshwater research at the University of Washington and beyond (see figure below).
The current focus of our student steering committee is facilitating four recurring student activities: Themed Topic Panel Discussions, WaterHackWeek, TED-style Talks, and Writing Circles. Each of these activities will be designed to help students become “T-shaped”—that is, possessing a deep knowledge of their own specialization yet also able to effectively collaborate with various other freshwater-related disciplines. Each proposed activity or communication medium will be independently managed by a dedicated student leader, providing opportunities for both leadership and professional development. The student steering committee hopes to give all members of the FWI community the freedom to shape and guide the various facets of FWI.
FWI activities will begin in spring 2018, but the student steering committee remains open to new ideas and ways to collaborate in the freshwater community. The goal is to be flexible and adaptive as FWI continues to grow and develop. We hope students, researchers, faculty, and other friends of UW will join us in this exciting pioneering of the FWI.