PSU’s Center for the Environment Exceeding Expectations

March 6th, 2006 by Adam

The Center for the Environment at Plymouth State University (PSU) is accomplishing goals in a fraction of the time originally anticipated by the University. Seventeen months after its creation, the Center has created nine new jobs for the Plymouth region and forged partnerships locally and regionally, storming through its five-year plan. The Center is now poised to provide long-term benefits to the University, local communities and the state.

“It’s been an amazing year,” said PSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Virginia M. Barry. “Not only has the Center developed a number of local, regional and state partnerships that are poised to achieve incredible success, but the regional community has responded with open arms, welcoming the Center as a place where applied research and community service come together.”

The Center is contributing to the economy of the town of Plymouth, already creating nine new jobs with an average salary of $50,000, an economic development indicator that translates well for both the university and town. The unique graduate programs offer area residents local educational opportunities not previously available, and recruit graduate students to the area, augmenting the economic stimulus provided by the Center. Each grant-funded graduate student equates to $60,000 to $100,000 in new dollars to the regional economy.

The concept for the Center for the Environment emerged from Plymouth State University’s focus on serving the local, regional and statewide communities while connecting to a larger, global vision of environmental service and research. The mission grew out of PSU’s new role as a regional comprehensive university.

“It is remarkable what can be accomplished with the help of supportive administrators at an institution taking new steps to engage in research and outreach that benefits communities and students alike,” said CFE Director Steve Kahl.

At the Center, a focus on partnerships generates high-quality work and research that often directly benefit local communities. A partnership with the town of Plymouth is underway for its riverfront enhancement project. In Meredith, the CFE is collaborating with town officials in support of a water resource management plan created by Lake Waukewan’s Watershed Advisory Committee. The interest in the project is so high that the town of Franklin has asked the Center to be involved with their watershed planning effort for Webster Lake.

“We have just begun our partnership as it relates to this two-year grant project and the town and PSU share an expectation that our partnership will extend beyond the scope of this grant project,” said John Edgar, town planner for Meredith. “Our partnership holds a lot of promise and mutual benefit.”

Meredith citizens spearheaded the project funded by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), which is examining the water quality of the tributaries that ultimately impact Lake Waukewan, the drinking water supply for Meredith. Four other towns—Ashland, Center Harbor, Holderness and New Hampton—are involved as part of the Watershed Advisory Committee. Ultimately, the data collected will be used to support decisions aimed at protecting water quality.

“These types of partnerships, where local staff and student talents are leveraged to produce a bankable product for communities, are precisely what the Center is about,” says Associate Center Director Brian Eisenhauer. “The much-needed project is being done at little cost to the town, and our graduate and undergraduate students are gaining valuable experience that molds their education.”

In addition, Kahl said, there is an important side benefit to these collaborations: PSU students are interacting directly with staff from DES, the U.S. Forest Service and various non-profit and government organizations, making professional contacts that will serve them in their future job pursuits.

In another collaboration with DES, the University is developing a long-anticipated lake chemistry satellite laboratory to work with lake associations in the North Country and the Lakes Region. The laboratory will support a variety of student-focused research projects.

Meanwhile, another Center-initiated project delivered just what the neighboring 55-year-old, prestigious Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest needed: a research hydrologist.

“Hubbard Brook, which is world renowned for its environmental research, needed to hire a new research hydrologist, but didn’t have the funding,” said Kahl. The Center and PSU were able to raise private funds from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for the first year, then Hubbard Brook and the CFE will split the cost for the hydrologist position after this year. Together, the two organizations share the post; PSU now has a faculty position for regional research and its graduate programs, and Hubbard Brook receives a research hydrologist at half-price. Provost Barry said that the creative approach taken by the Center allowed this position to be created one to two years earlier than would have been possible in typical federal and University budget planning cycles.

Other partnerships are underway with the Squam Lake Association for environmental monitoring, White Mountain National Forest for environmental remediation and the Northern Forest Center on an inventory of research in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine that is crucial to the future of the northern forest. In each case, the Center has found ways to bring funding to the partnership.

The Center is providing funding to other academic institutions as well through research collaborations with Dartmouth College ($63,000), the University of New Hampshire ($33,000 in two grants) and the University of Maine ($102,000 in three grants).

In the midst of these unique projects, the Center’s graduate students have gained access to real-life experience, unique research opportunities and a look at environmental research in action. The graduate program was approved in June, just 10 months after the Center was founded, and already has 11 graduate students, with several more planning to enroll in the fall.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” said graduate student Chris Conrod of the unique graduate course choices afforded by the Center for the Environment. Conrod is conducting research at Hubbard Brook as part of his graduate degree in environmental science and policy. Graduate student Janet Towse echoed his thoughts, saying she appreciates both “the academic experience and the new employment opportunities” provided by the Center.

“The University administration envisioned that these kinds of research partnerships, educational experiences and community service would develop over three to five years,” said Barry. “After 17 months, those goals have been met—and then some.”