Graduate students: An essential component of research programs at Lake Tahoe

Talk to most University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and Desert Research Institute (DRI) faculty about their research and it does not take long for them to mention how important graduate students are to their programs. They will tell you that their students are extremely bright, hard working, and provide incredibly productive insights to the research projects on which they work. These attributes clearly apply to those students who have conducted their graduate research in the Lake Tahoe Basin. In this report, we have summarized the research contributions of these “Tahoe students,” and provide the reader an overview of their research findings, identify their graduate advisor and degree program, and how their graduate experience benefitted them in their career development.

The graduate degree programs through which our “Tahoe students” pass are administered by the University of Nevada, Reno, since, as a research institution, the Desert Research Institute does not administer graduate degree programs. Instead, DRI and UNR faculty work collaboratively to support and mentor graduate students through these UNR-based programs. Most of the graduate degree programs are discipline-specific and are administered by departments; however, four additional programs are interdisciplinary in nature and are administered campus-wide through the UNR Graduate School (i.e., Atmospheric Sciences; Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology; Environmental Sciences; and Hydrologic Sciences). Graduate students select and apply to their program of interest. The most qualified students are admitted and then mentored by UNR and DRI faculty through a master’s or doctoral degree program.

All natural resource management is inherently interdisciplinary. In today’s complex world, researchers are increasingly asked to provide objective information that can be used to inform decisions by resource managers. This is particularly true in the complex management environment of Lake Tahoe. UNR and DRI faculty have a long tradition of working collaboratively to meet these needs. During their graduate programs, students also commonly work in these interdisciplinary contexts and develop a variety of skills that will serve them well throughout their careers.

Collectively, our institutions have produced more than 100 graduates who have conducted research  on issues important to the Lake Tahoe Basin. We have been able to contact many of these students and have compiled in this report their perspectives on the value of their graduate experience. Several of these graduates now occupy research positions at UNR, DRI, and other academic institutions; others have continued their graduate education at UNR or other universities. The production of high quality graduates is well recognized by federal, regional, state and local organizations, as many former students are now employed by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Nevada Division of State Lands, Nevada Conservation Districts, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, Truckee Meadows Regional Planning, secondary education, and others. Past graduates also are employed by the private sector in areas such as hydrology, hydrogeology, environmental planning, and air quality management. We are very proud of both the individual and collective contributions our students have made to science in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Many research and management challenges still face the Lake Tahoe Basin and surrounding region, and we believe both the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Desert Research Institute are well positioned to continue the outstanding research and education programs that have been ongoing for several decades. The many departmental and interdisciplinary graduate degree programs through which UNR and DRI mentor students have and continue to produce world class professionals that are making contributions in areas related to air and water quality, runoff and erosion, environmental science, forest health, natural resource management, invasive species, wildlife and biodiversity, environmental planning, and policy.

We believe the focus of this year’s Tahoe Summit on climate change and its effects on Lake Tahoe is timely, and that our UNR and DRI faculty and their current and future graduates are well positioned to address this and other emerging issues, and their effects on Lake Tahoe and its surrounding watersheds.

By Mike Collopy, W. Wally Miller and Jim Thomas

(Editor’s note: Mike Collopy is executive director of the Academy for the Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno; Wally Miller is associate director for research of the Academy for the Environment; Jim Thomas is senior director of the Center for Watersheds and Environmental Sustainability at the Desert Research Institute. Combined, the three have more than 60 years of experience at Lake Tahoe.)

Comments are closed.