In 2014, around 10,000 gallons of a coal-washing chemical called MCHM spilled into the Elk River near Charleston, affecting 30,000 residents in nine counties.
Two years later, floods ravaged central and southeastern West Virginia, claiming 23 lives.
These incidents and others, including human-caused disasters, flooding, deteriorating infrastructure and climate change, are all tied to one essence of life: water.
Now a coalition of West Virginia University researchers is working together to address the state’s most pressing water issues through Bridge, a campus-wide science and technology policy, leadership and communications initiative. The impetus for the initiative is to translate the work of WVU researchers to policymakers as part of the University’s land-grant mission.
“Science and technology are driving forces behind vast changes across much of our society,” said Bridge Director Joan Centrella. “For public officials grappling with difficult policy decisions, data and analysis from experts can be indispensable. We chose water as the first focus area for the Bridge Initiative because of its importance to the state and the depth of experience we have on campus across the spectrum of water-related issues.”
The Bridge Waters of West Virginia team includes over two dozen faculty and staff researchers from Chambers, Davis, Eberly and Statler colleges as well as the Extension Service and the Energy Institute.
“Translating the work of our high-level research is instrumental to a healthy, prosperous society,” said Vice President for Research Fred King. “Connecting and building substantive relationships between our researchers with our policymakers in the state can bring forth what we need as a society to thrive in the future, while highlighting why we are a Carnegie-classified R1 institution.”
Bridge has also developed a program for individual faculty members to work directly with the Bridge team and receive support to connect their research to the science and technology policy sphere. The focus area for this first year is environmental sustainability.
Bridge has just announced its inaugural cohort of faculty fellows. The Bridge Faculty Fellows are:
Eddie Brzostek, associate professor of biology
“As a scientist, I was trained to share my findings with my fellow scientists and hope that some of my science made it into the public consciousness,” he said. “One of the most exciting things to me about being a Bridge Faculty Fellow is the hands-on training from experts on how to translate our science into policy. With this training, I hope to translate my science on how forests soak up carbon dioxide and slow climate change into policies that lay the groundwork for a carbon sequestration economy in West Virginia.”
Emily Garner, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering
“For the Bridge Faculty Fellow program, I plan to focus on policies that can improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation in rural West Virginia communities,” she said. “Some of the most pressing issues related to drinking water and wastewater in West Virginia that I hope we can address through the Bridge program include improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation in rural West Virginia communities and identifying policies that can support small water and wastewater systems in replacing and upgrading their aging infrastructure.
Jamie Shinn, assistant professor of geology and geography
“As a Bridge Faculty Fellow, my goal is to learn how to translate my research on the impacts of flooding in WV into actionable policy recommendations, with the ultimate goal of decreasing community vulnerability to flooding in the state,” she said. “I also hope to build connections with policymakers at local and state levels to ensure the research I am doing has a receptive audience. I think Bridge will play a fundamental role in connecting WVU’s R1 research status with its land grant mission.’
Fellows will receive a $5,000 grant that can be used for expenses that will allow them to participate in the program, including summer salary, student stipends, research and conference travel, and the like. Each Fellow will serve for one year.
“The Bridge Initiative demonstrates WVU’s commitment to leveraging faculty research expertise to inform public policy. These inaugural Bridge Faculty Fellows will blaze a new trail in fulfilling our land-grant mission. They will also help to show how WVU’s ongoing strategic transformation is rooted in service and outreach to our state and region,” said Provost Maryanne Reed.
Originally from WVU Today