For senior Kim Oldenborg, water is more than a life-sustaining resource. Water is her inspiration—academically, personally, and professionally.

Initially attracted to Northland College for its proximity to Lake Superior, Oldenborg was excited to begin working as a research technician for the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation in 2013.

“I have always felt a sense of place around water,” Oldenborg said.  “My hope is to one day help manage and restore wetlands and floodplains around the Great Lakes region.”

Oldenborg is right on track, having applied to several graduate programs and been offered a full ride and work stipend to three of her choice. She believes her four years of experience in the applied research program has provided her with the tools she needs advance her education and career.

Having worked on many projects, her primary focus has been the installation and maintenance of thirty stream gauges around Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior, and the Penokee hills and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near campus.

The gauges are placed into a body of water to collect pressure and temperature data that is then used to calculate a discharge record. This information is used to estimate yearly loads of sediment and nutrients carried by the streams, which is important in the development of lake management plans.

“It is a very rewarding feeling to know you are able to contribute to helping manage water resources in the area,” she said.

Oldenborg completed a capstone project for her biology and natural resources majors through the Center with the goal of obtaining data that may help to restore the hydrology and vegetation of tributary floodplains.

“It was a really neat to see her take on so much individual direction with that project,” said Randy Lehr, codirector of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.

While working for the Burke Center, Oldenborg learned numerous technical skills like how to conduct flow measurements, take water samples, use software to create rating curves, conduct aquatic plant surveys, and conduct stream geomorphology cross section surveys. And to her surprise even learned how to drive a boat, basic carpentry skills, and basic electrical wiring.

“Methods and technologies we have developed to assess and monitor watershed health has expanded more than I ever could have imagined,” Oldenborg explained, stating this is just one of the many aspects of the applied research program that allows students to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies in their selected field.

Oldenborg plans to continue working for the Burke Center until she leaves for graduate school this fall.

“This transition period with the Burke Center is very nice because I am continuing to grow my analytical thinking and reasoning skills,” Oldenborg said.

Oldenborg is undecided but currently leaning towards studying wetlands and riparian restoration at Grand Valley State University located on Lake Michigan.

“I hope to combine what I learned about ecological restoration from undergrad classes and what I learned about hydrology and water quality from the Burke Center to guide the work I do in graduate school,” Oldenborg concluded.


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