I grew up on a farm in eastern Kentucky, where my family still raises corn, soybean, tobacco and beef cattle. My passion for preserving and enhancing water resources began during my childhood in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, as I monitored the conditions of the stream flowing through our family farm, recording changes in crayfish communities. Water is often imagined as an unlimited natural resource. However, my childhood experiences were contradictory to this belief, where I experienced firsthand the transition from contaminated well water to piped, treated water to purchased bottled water as concerns emerged about the water quality of our small rural community. These experiences have taken the spark of childhood fascination and fanned it into a passion to educate and develop solutions for water resource preservation and treatment, specifically in low income, rural communities.
What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?
I am an assistant professor and water quality scientist in the Biological Systems Engineering Department and School of Natural Resources with a 60% research and 40% teaching appointment. My research focuses on identifying, tracing and treating contaminants of emerging concern and nutrients in surface waters. To accomplish this, my team utilizes innovative sensor technologies for water quality monitoring and designs ecosystem based Best Management Practices (BMPs). I currently teach Wetlands (NRES/BSEN 458) and Seminar 1 (AGEN/BSEN 889) along with co-teaching Computer Aided Problem Solving (AGEN/BSEN 112) and Vadose Zone (AGEN/BSEN 957).
What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?
I was drawn to UNL because it is a large, public land-grant institution, which provides a unique space to focus on research, teaching and Extension. Nebraska offers complex water quality issues, state-of-art facilities and a climatic and geologic landscape that allows for a diverse array of research opportunities. Further, UNL hosts world-renown institutes and research centers focused on water and agriculture such as the Daugherty Water for Food Institute. Lastly, the faculty, staff and students in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, School of Natural Resources, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and College of Engineering continue to be an inclusive, diverse group of individuals that make UNL a thriving research institution.
What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?
The aspect of my work I enjoy the most is sharing research findings in the classroom and bringing students into the Messer Ecological Systems Observations Lab (MESOLab) established on East Campus. I enjoy teaching students new designs or techniques that will assist them in their future careers. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is watching students use newly developed techniques that require innovative thinking and design while building their confidence in their own work. I love watching that moment when a student has a “light bulb” go off and they can identify the problem, evaluate a range of possible solutions and develop a plan to test and evaluate those possible solutions.
What do you consider your greatest academic achievement?
My greatest academic achievement is watching my graduate and undergraduate students graduate and find jobs that they love. I have desired to teach at a college level and run my own research program since my first year as an undergraduate. Growing up in Appalachia, the idea of working in a research setting appeared unattainable. However, I am thankful for the role I have been gifted to play in training and encouraging students as they discover their own “unattainable” dreams at UNL and realize they can achieve them!
What is something that most people don't know about you?
I have read and watched the Harry Potter series at least three times.
What is your life like outside of work?
I enjoy spending time with my high school sweetheart of 17 years, Patrick, two boys, Elliott (6) and Raymond (2), and a West Highland Terrier. We enjoy Messer adventures around the Lincoln area each Saturday, which have on occasion resulted in my children exploring wetlands in Lancaster County. I also enjoy running, art projects, traveling, and I continue to be a huge Harry Potter fan.