Student research on water sustainability made possible by MSU alumnus and donor

Meaningful research is not always easy, but with help from the extended MSU network, improving natural resource management is made possible.

Otisville river road at sunset from above
Photo credit: Aaron Burden from Unsplash
Brockton Feltman
Brockton Feltman

MSU graduate student Brockton Feltman is working in the Department of Community Sustainability towards his Ph.D., researching water sustainability in agricultural communities in Michigan, Kansas, and California. His work investigates how water is being managed for farming and the role local stakeholders can play in this management decision-making. His over-arching goal with this research is to identify water resource management approaches that promote greater sustainability. This type of work is tremendously important to help communities think critically about their approach to management, creating and promoting sustainable practices. Feltman’s research can help water resource stakeholders optimize their management efforts to ensure the long-term availability of water resources for future generations.

Social science research that seeks to understand how natural resource management happens can be time-intensive, particularly when it involves bringing large groups of people together like Feltman does. What is critical to make this work possible is the right partners and importantly, enough financial support to see this work through. Feltman is grateful to have found all of these resources in the extended MSU community.

MSU alumnus Zachary Curtis, who graduated with his Ph.D. from MSU in 2018, and Jon Bartholic, a professor emeritus from the MSU Department of Community Sustainability (CSUS), have been working with Feltman as collaborators and partners in his research, providing their technical know-how and robust knowledge of the key players in Michigan water resource management.

Additionally, Feltman’s research is being funded by a generous endowment created by Bartholic. The fund, “Ensuring the Future of Michigan’s Natural Resources,” is awarded to students who identify and study natural resource problems in Michigan and work toward their resolution through collaborative efforts with community leaders, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and industry.

In Michigan, Feltman is working in three major watersheds that support a great deal of Michigan’s agriculture: the Maple River watershed, Saginaw Bay watershed, and River Raisin watershed. Each of these watersheds physically represents the sum of the water resources for the many interests and communities within each of the watersheds and relying on that water for their livelihoods.

Feltman says of his research, “I hope my work can help promote greater stakeholder engagement in water decision-making. Who has power and the voice and who doesn’t determines what happens with our natural resources. I think the people should have a stronger voice in the process and outcomes as they have a stake in protecting those resources for the future.”

“Brockton’s work in swarming, by bringing lots of stakeholders together to discuss the issue together, is a new approach for facilitating natural resource management,” Bartholic says. “There are a lot of practices that when you look at them holistically might need to be re-evaluated, and with this collaborative work with everyone at the table you can make those decisions that include sustainability of the environment and the best development of the food system and economics for the farmer.”

Who has power and the voice and who doesn’t determines what happens with our natural resources. I think the people should have a stronger voice in the process and outcomes as they have a stake in protecting those resources for the future. Brockton Feltman

Curtis, who has a dual Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, brings a wealth of technical expertise to this work from his experience starting a small business in Lansing, Hydrosimulatics INC. His business focuses on developing technology to do environmental and water resource big-data analysis.

Reflecting on the potential impact of Feltman’s research, Curtis says, “This work enhances our collective understanding of the interconnected problems we face, in terms of environmental and water sustainability, and the new opportunities afforded by information-intensive technologies like Magnet4Water.” Magnet4Water is the analysis platform created by Hydrosimulatics.

Bartholic brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in water resource management in Michigan, as this was the focus of his work while he was a department chair of Resource Development (which became CSUS in 2013). Bartholic also created the endowment to CSUS that supports Feltman’s work. Bartholic felt it was important to create an endowment to support students who do work like Feltman because he wanted to provide opportunities for students to be able to pursue their passion and be creative.

Bartholic says, “Most graduate students have to go after grants to support their work, but then the grant limits what the student can work on. With an endowment, it is wide open and allows the student to really express themselves and supports the work that they would like to do in the world as they see it. I think we need to be more creative in this fast-changing world and this type of funding allows that to happen.”

In reflecting on, in part, why he chose CSUS for the endowment, Bartholic says, “Brockton is working in Kansas, California, and Michigan so he brings a broad perspective and that’s reflected in his advisory team, who are from multiple departments. CSUS is a department that really allows for broader perspectives and creativity. I think the world needs more coupling this way, with what Brockton, Zach, and I, with other teams of people, are trying to do is ultimately figure out how to facilitate a linked world.”

Current CSUS department chair, Rebecca Jordan, highlights the substantial value by saying, “As a department chair, endowments like Jon’s are such a valuable resource because I am given the freedom to invest dollars in areas where local and serious problems are the worst. Further, because graduate students work in these areas these dollars go twice as far in that student potential is also developed.”

Jordan also notes, “CSUS benefits so much by its relations with alumni and other stakeholders. These are the people who can engage our students in meeting the sustainability needs of the future. We are extremely lucky to have such active alumni and alumni groups not only through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources but also through CSUS.”

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