A Look Over My Shoulder and into the Future

Holden Sparacino
Jul 10, 2018 · 3 min read
Lake Champlain from UVM’s research vessel the Melosira

My advisor, Kris, thought writing up a development plan — a type of reflection on the work grad students are doing, and what they want to do with their career — would be helpful in preparation for my comprehensive exams. She was right! I really enjoyed putting my thoughts into words, and thought it would make a great blog post, so here it is! Enjoy.

Throughout my research and job experiences, I have sought to involve communities in environmental decisions. My roles have involved creating resources for communities, developing management strategies that integrate community-based knowledge, and working with local groups to increase outreach and involvement in the scientific and water resource management processes.

My educational background in community-based research led to me to previous positions working with communities around Boston, Chicago, and throughout Pennsylvania to increase awareness of environmental impacts, and increase participation in water quality research. Being part of a team at the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring that acted as a resource to volunteer groups interested in creating research protocols, collecting water samples, recording, and finally, analyzing data was nothing short of inspiring. Looking ahead in my field, I saw exciting career possibilities that opened up research to communities through integrating local knowledge, leveraging academic resources, and increasing scientific communications in order to develop outcomes where both communities and academic institutions benefited from collaborations.

I knew that to continue to combine social and natural sciences towards larger impacts in the future I would need additional training. I sought out a master’s degree in natural resources at the University of Vermont to improve my knowledge of natural systems, water resource management, and community-based participation in management and outreach strategies.

My project focuses on road salt impacts to surface waters. Specifically, I am researching the current practices of private contractors through the Lake Champlain Basin, in addition to their motivations and barriers to adopt best management practices. Through examining the current practices of private contractors, recommendations for community-based social marketing tools that reduce the barriers private contractors have towards adopting best management practices can be created.

Through this project, I am applying my previous experience in water quality research with my background working with communities. Through my studies, I hope to continue to build on my social science and environmental studies background with courses in natural resource management and aquatic ecology. Through the combined project outcomes and my classes, I hope to continue to build practical skills in applied research, tools that increase community involvement in water management decisions, and science communication and outreach.

This year I have so far focused on mixed-methods research and will spend a significant amount of this summer analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data and writing my thesis. In addition to continuing to conduct my research and write on research outcomes, I look forward to applying these outcomes towards recommendations for future outreach strategies. These recommendations will become part of a larger outreach initiative, and I am excited to be part of their development and possibly implementation into the fall through an annual conference targeted towards winter management professionals, creating accessible resources for private contractors to integrate best management practices, and more.

By practicing applied research, I hope to increase my capacity to be involved in water resource management, especially when management decisions integrate communities. I look forward to continuing to increase my understanding of aquatic systems and community-based research, to develop my experience in science communication outreach and methods, and to continue a career supporting community involvement in surface water research and management.

Holden Sparacino

Written by

Graduate research student at the University of Vermont interested in water quality, community-based science, and #scicomm. Cyclist, hiker. holdensparacino.com

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