Friends, fellows, undergrads, a champion and a duo of change agents: an afternoon of celebration

On Monday of this week, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute (WRI) conducted a fellows convocation and award event that conferred recognition on 20 master’s, Ph.D. or postdoctoral fellows; six undergraduate students who participated in the 2020 Sea Grant Community Engaged Internship Program, one of whom was also the winner of the Weston Scholarship; two federally elected officials; the first-ever Wisconsin Sea Grant Great Lakes Champion Award winner; and two people who have made a big difference in Green Bay estuary and took home the Wisconsin Sea Grant Actionable Science Award.

“It’s not news that COVID-19 has disrupted every part of our lives. Our biennial fellows convocation is just one of innumerable events that could not be held in person, but we were not prepared to let a pandemic stand in the way of honoring student accomplishments, and the contributions of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Mike Gallagher who see the value of investing in, conserving and celebrating our amazing Great Lakes and other Wisconsin water assets,” said Jim Hurley, director of both Sea Grant and WRI.

Hurley acted as emcee of the virtual event that drew more than 70 participants from cities across the Badger State, as well as from spots such as Guam, Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg, Florida.

“This is the third time we have held a fellows convocation. It was the first time needed to conduct it in a virtual setting. Of course, we wish it could have been in person, but the enthusiasm and well wishes made up for that loss of in-person conviviality. I’m pleased that so many people from near and far could join to celebrate water scholarship and positive impacts in our coastal communities,” he said.

For many years, Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Gallagher have used their positions in Congress to support the mission of Sea Grant and they each joined the event to collect a Friend of Wisconsin Sea Grant Award.

Dean Haen was named Wisconsin Sea Grant Great Lakes Champion for 2021, a new award that will be given every two years going forward to an individual, business, organization or program that demonstrates a long-term commitment to the care and concern for the Great Lakes.  

2021 Wisconsin Sea Grant Great Lakes Champion Award Winner Dean Haen. Photo: Brown County Port

Haen is the director of the Brown County Port and Resource Recovery Department. He was lauded for economic and ecological contributions. More than 200 ships annually visit the port, hauling more than 2 million tons of cargo, generating jobs and economic impact.

Haen has also been integral to the restoration of the Cat Island Chain in Green Bay, which is bringing back 1,200 acres that provide shoreline protection and habitat for endangered reptiles and birds. The chain also acts as a storage facility for material dredged from the shipping lanes, beneficially using material that would otherwise require costly disposal.

The Wisconsin Sea Grant Actionable Science Award was presented to a couple who are not only a team in marriage but also in their devotion to cleanup of the Lower Fox River and Green Bay. Vicky and Hallet J. “Bud” Harris have spent decades in various environmental research and outreach roles and serve as volunteers for state and local conservation groups. Vicky Harris was a longtime Sea Grant water quality and habitat restoration specialist working in the program’s Green Bay Office. Bud Harris is a retired professor of natural and applied sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Bud and Vicky Harris, winners of the 2021 Wisconsin Sea Grant Actionable Science Award. Contributed photo.

As the for the impressive roster of students who received recognition, they fill many roles in many places, including:

-Three Dean John A. Knauss Fellows who each have a master’s degree and have, or will devote a year of service in Washington, D.C., in either the executive or legislative branch on ocean, coastal or Great Lakes topics.

– Eight fellows who have a master’s degree, are working toward a Ph.D. or have recently completed a Ph.D. and are placed, or will soon be placed, with partner state agencies and completing important work such as setting health standards for human exposure to PFAS, determining groundwater levels in central Wisconsin and protecting coastal property and infrastructure. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement that sees the agency gaining cutting-edge knowledge from these young scholars and the young people benefitting from mentors within agencies—the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, department of administration, department of natural resources or department of health services.

– Four fellows who have a master’s degree, are working toward a Ph.D. or have recently completed a Ph.D. and are placed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess toxicological threats to people and the environment.

– Two students who are engaged in ongoing research, and efforts leading to publications to further share science with a wider community. One fellow is working at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility and the other is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzing PFAS in state waters.

-A 2020-21 NOAA Coastal Management Fellow stationed in Guam where she and partners are updating a plan for the Seashore Reserve. Another student is winding down her fellowship with the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and a third is working to understand and mitigate community flooding with the Association of State Floodplain Managers, a national organization based in Madison.

Celeste Gunderson is a junior working toward degrees in geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the 2021 recipient of the Carl J. Weston Scholarship, made possible by the generous gift of Dr. and Mrs. Carl B. Weston in honor of their son. The scholarship goes to undergraduate student pursuing freshwater studies as part of a Wisconsin Sea Grant project.

Gunderson was also part of a summer community engaged internship program in 2020 that saw another six undergraduates working on issues as diverse as science communication, wild rice conservation flooding and aquatic invasive species. The program is designed to provide diverse students with hands-on experience under the mentorship of a career professional.