Students and Alumni

Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake: Summer Research Experience in the Arid West

REUResearch combines creativity with a thorough understanding of a subject, as well as the quantitative, analytical and writing skills needed to effectively convey findings to your target audience. In order to build a future generation of talented researchers, it is crucial to give young students an opportunity to partake in the research process so that they may experience the challenges and rewards associated with research. During the past three summers (2010-2012), our National Science Foundation grant, “Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake: Summer Research Experience in the Arid West” has supported 27 nationally-recruited undergraduate students to conduct research during an intensive summer research experience for undergraduates or REU program. The overarching goal of our program was to explore the intersections between disciplines in the socioeconomic and natural sciences that inform adaptive watershed management. We also aimed to provide undergraduate students with a comprehensive research experience under the guidance of a faculty mentor in the student’s field of interest.

Over the course of a 10-week program each summer, undergraduate students worked closely with their University of Nevada, Reno, faculty mentor in the following disciplines: fine art, landscape, plant and wildlife ecology, business, hydrology, history, geography, tourism, conservation biology, resource economics, limnology and political science, to develop and implement an array of projects that addressed current issues regarding natural resource management within the watershed. Throughout the summer, students were exposed to local natural resource management issues through a series of lectures and discussions with local managers and scientists designed to highlight the complexity of balancing policy and science to make informed management decisions.

Our program expanded students’ knowledge of a specific topic related to natural resource management in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee River-Pyramid Lake watershed while allowing them to participate in all aspects of the research process.

Our research program culminated in an undergraduate research poster session where students presented the findings of their projects to their peers, faculty and the general public. All projects contributed to an increased scientific and/or socioeconomic understanding of regional conservation issues in an applied context.

Student feedback

Feedback from students was very positive. Of the 27 students that participated in our REU program during 2010-2012, 89 percent indicated this was their first undergraduate research experience. As a learning experience, 52 percent rated the REU program as “fantastic-this is a great way to learn”; the remaining 48 percent indicated they “learned a lot.” Students reported their overall experience with mentors was excellent or good (89 percent), with 88 percent indicating their overall research experience met or exceeded their expectations. When asked if their REU experience changed their perspective on continuing their education, 44 percent of the students indicated they already planned to go to graduate school and still did, while 52 percent reported that our REU program increased their interest in going to graduate school.

By Michael Collopy, 2013 Lake Tahoe Summit Report

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.)

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 benefited 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.

(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.)