Elizabeth Alexson’s self-directed student research positions with the Northland College Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation fast-tracked her from graduating Northland College in 2013 to graduate studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), where she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in water resources science.

While at Northland, Alexson worked on a zero stormwater runoff initiative to neutralize human impact on the amount of runoff on campus.

According to Matt Hudson, watershed program coordinator, Alexson was a student who “excelled naturally” and contributed extensively to the project.

Alexson trained alongside natural resource professionals in order to learn modern techniques in the field. This included how to perform surveys and measure stream flow with the latest technology and software.

“More generally, I learned aspects of project development and implementation and the importance of proper data management,” she said.

As a UMD graduate student, she is participating in a paleolimnological study of the St. Louis River Estuary, examining paleoindicators to determine changes in environmental conditions with the hopes to inform management decisions.

Alexson is now charged with the task of researching fossil diatoms communities, a family of algae that can be used to assess changes in environmental conditions, in order to determine historical phosphorus loading in the St. Louis River Estuary.

After meeting her graduate school cohorts, Alexson realized just how unique the applied research program is at Northland College.

“There are few programs that engage students so early in their academic career. Many students don’t undergo similar self-directed experiences until they pursue their PhD or post-doctoral positions,” she said.

Next step: Alexson hopes to continue working to preserve and maintain water resources in the Lake Superior region after she graduates.

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