Watershed Specialist Training
By Karen Terry, Extension Educator, Water Resource Management & Policy
To effectively manage natural resources in Minnesota, it’s important to understand the science of water: the physics of how it moves across the landscape, the chemistry of how the various components interact, the biology of the life history needs of each species in the aquatic community, the data analysis and statistics to be able to make sense of the data collected. But managing water resources involves much more than these: water resources managers also need to understand key ecological concepts and how people fit into the picture.
The Watershed Specialist Training was developed to provide a broad-based foundation of skills and knowledge for new and early-career natural resources professionals. This semester-long interactive, online course was created by a team of experts led by the U of M Water Resources Center and has been offered twice a year since 2012. In 2018, the course transitioned from a Moodle platform to Canvas. It consists of seven modules:
- Institutions and Policy
- Watershed Science
- Civic Engagement
- Assessment, Evaluation and Monitoring
- Implementation Activities
- Project and Program Implementation
Each of the course’s 14 weeks includes a set of required readings and videos along with additional optional resources, and a topic expert delivers a live webinar during each module to provide an opportunity for ‘live’ discussion. Assignments are designed to develop and encourage critical thinking skills, and they build on each other throughout the course so that students get the experience of working on a water resources project from planning to implementation. Some assignments are posted such that other participants can read and comment on them, and course participants are expected to spend 6-8 hours each week on the course readings and assignments. Participants who complete the course earn a Watershed Specialist Certificate. New last year was the addition of weekly “Coffee Breaks,” which are the virtual equivalent of open office hours for students to interact with the instructor. Foundational concepts such as systems thinking and adaptive management are woven through all of the course work.
Watershed Specialists are:
“Watershed Specialists” are. . . . . . professionals specializing in water resource planning and implementation. They understand the interconnection between water and land. They integrate knowledge from technical, policy, administrative, and social science disciplines to address water resource challenges. They are part-managers and part-technicians who help develop and implement stormwater plans, TMDL plans, county water plans, and watershed plans. They are key to healthy waters in Minnesota. (See the Water Specialists Training brochure.)
Typical class composition includes Soil and Water Conservation Districts, watershed management organizations, and watershed districts staff; graduate students; private consultants; state employees (Pollution Control Agency); city and county staff; and citizens serving on local water boards. Each course participant selects a mentor who has experience in the field to discuss topics and assignments with. What do they have to say about the course?
“I (also) think more on a watershed scale now. I used to only look for the next individual project to work on, but now I am thinking about which watershed is in critical condition and what projects would help improve it. This course has helped me look past just one lake or one farm property and see a bigger picture.” Jacquelynn Olson, participant
“Thanks for creating such an outstanding learning opportunity for so many watershed professionals and students across the state.” Tex Hawkins, mentor
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