Affiliates featured in essays, news

River Basin Center affiliates keep busy—something journalists and writers have noticed. From creative nonfiction essays to research profiles, several recently published pieces feature RBC scientists.

Scott Connelly, lecturer and graduate program faculty at the Odum School of Ecology was featured in UGA Today in a piece written by Beth Gavrilles.

College of Public Health highlighted research to which affiliates Erin Lipp and Krista Capps contributed in a research profile. Read the story, written by Lauren Baggett here.

Mary Freeman appears in the essay Alleged River in the Bitter Southerner. The creative nonfiction piece was crafted by Hannah Palmer, with Virginie Kippelen contributing photography.

A group of people sit in a shaft of sunlight, listening.

Alumni, students, water equity experts gather for River Basin Center Policy Symposium and Celebration

From Sept. 16 to 17, over 100 people gathered in person and online to hear from experts in water policy, to celebrate the career of Laurie Fowler—former River Basin Center director of policy—and to brainstorm the future of UGA’s Environmental Practicum. 

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks of Spelman College, Linda Mendez-Barrientos of the University of Denver and Josiah Watts of One Hundred Miles shared their expertise throughout the morning on Sept. 16.

Hal Robinson, Georgia-Alabama Land Trust and John Sheesley, Region 4 of the Environmental Protection Agency led an ethics- and law-focused session in the afternoon.

In a segment titled “Using Infrastructure Projects to Advance Equity,” Haley Selsor, Cydney Seigerman and Marshall Shepherd spoke about research conducted here at the University of Georgia.

Laptops and water bottles are visible as people listen and take notes.
Day one was hosted at the Delta Innovation Hub.

Two women pose, holding awards.
Beth Gavrilles and Susan Kidd were two recipients of the inaugural round of the River Basin Center Special Appreciation Awards.

Many of Fowler’s former students attended. In her keynote address, the retired attorney, professor and director reminisced on some of the most memorable moments of her career.

From shutting down Broad St. on a football weekend to dam removals, she and her Environmental Practicum students saw eventful decades. 

The graduate-level course provided opportunities for students to apply what they learned about environmental law and the natural and built environment in the classroom to solve critical environmental problems for governmental, corporate and public-interest clients.  

And for Fowler, some main takeaways underpinned all the policy wins and losses she saw through teaching the course.  

“We need to integrate the input of the people who are going to be most dramatically impacted by our climate recommendations,” said Fowler. “What I really do think is that to change corporations, governments—no matter what level of people—to change what they do in their yards and houses and what products they buy, we’ve got to be kind.”

That—kindness—is something she hopes continues in the next iteration of the Environmental Practicum.

The interactive program on Sept. 17 invited participants to think critically about what worked well for the practicum in the past, and what opportunities for improvement faculty members face as they redesign the course.

The day was designed as a workshop: breakout groups discussed focused prompts in a series of sessions, conversing casually throughout the Odum building and courtyard and reporting back to the larger gathering. Participants’ input was recorded for use in planning the next Environmental Practicum.

The two-day event was originally scheduled for the fall of 2021, but was postponed due to COVID-19. The event was co-sponsored by the Odum School of Ecology, the School of Public and International Affairs and the School of Law.

Burning questions: The mysteries of pyrogenic carbon and the effects of prescribed fire on soil

When you think of a forest on fire, you aren’t usually thinking about what’s happening in the soil- but graduate student Ali Moss is. The Spencer Research Grant winner and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources student’s research investigates the relationship between prescribed fire and carbon cycling, specifically studying an organic material known as pyrogenic carbon. This form of organic carbon appears when soil interacts with fire, and Moss intends to learn its secrets.

Soils are beautiful! Moss examines soils collected immediately after the prescribed burn in April 2021. In the background, pyrogenic carbon from burned grasses and litter blankets the soil surface.

“One of the big areas of mystery is that pyrogenic carbon is present in rivers, and is travelling from rivers to the ocean,” Moss said, “but we don’t really understand the details of how it moves from soil to waterways, and we don’t really understand how it becomes dissolved.” Pyrogenic carbon tends to persist in soil longer than unburned organic matter. Researchers originally thought that this was because microbes couldn’t break down pyrogenic carbon, but this since been disputed.

“We know that pyrogenic carbon is harder for microorganisms to decompose than regular organic matter,” Moss explained. “But it’s always a mistake to underestimate microorganisms, because they can do, like, anything.” Moving forward, Moss hopes to characterize dissolved pyrogenic carbon in South Georgia forests managed with prescribed fire, and figure out how it makes its way into water.

There are several moving parts to this research: Moss and their team pull soil cores to get a profile of organic matter at different soil depths. Then, to investigate the connections between carbon in the soil and in the water, they pull water samples directly from the soil using lysimeters. They also do extractions of soil in water in order to test and compare two different methods for studying dissolved pyrogenic carbon in soil.

A field of lysimeters installed in the burned stand of forest immediately after the prescribed fire, April 2021. A lysimeter is a device used to measure evapotranspiration by recording the amount of water percolating through soil.

Another major question is simply how long pyrogenic carbon can last in the soil after a burn. “Because pyrogenic carbon hangs out in the soil longer, it might be an important carbon sink,” Moss said, explaining how carbon, pulled from the atmosphere by plants, may remain sequestered in the soil longer after it has been exposed to fire. “Some pyrogenic carbon does hang out in the soils for millennia, but most of it is probably cycling out within decades or centuries. So what are the controls on this? How can we get a better idea of what kind of sink pyrogenic carbon is and how would we quantify that?”

The experiment is currently underway near Tifton, Georgia and compares two stands of longleaf pine trees, one of which is not managed with fire, and one where Moss and their team performed a prescribed fire back in April of 2021. Prescribed fire is a forestry management technique that involves strategic burning. The practice brings a lot of known environmental benefits that are still being explored—and Moss is a big fan. “I think prescribed fire is awesome.” Moss said. “Getting to participate in prescribed fire I felt was really cool…It’s a really powerful tool.”

The prescribed fire in April 2021, shortly after ignition: a backing fire crawls through the understory with low intensity.

Part of her interest in the project stems from this enthusiasm for prescribed fire. “Despite its importance as a land management tool,” Moss said in their Spencer Research Grant proposal, “prescribed fire science remains underfunded compared to wildfire science, resulting in many knowledge gaps.”

Moss hopes her research may one day help inform forest managers how to regulate carbon through fire. “I love to talk to people about prescribed fires and spread the word about how awesome prescribed fire is.”

Ali Moss in March 2021, assessing fuel composition before the prescribed fire.

Moss’s research is funded by the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources as well as a 2022 Spencer Research Grant. The grant is an annual award given to graduate students studying freshwater resource management and conservation. It is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Moss’s project reflects a love for ecological science and conservation-focused management techniques.

Photos provided by Ali Moss. Story by Olivia Allen.

A river and the underside of a bridge are visible.

Leaky infrastructure driving antibiotic resistant pathogens in local waters

Could your old septic tank be driving a growth in antimicrobial resistant bacteria?

It’s possible, say the authors of a University of Georgia study that identified aging sewer lines and septic systems as the primary drivers of antibiotic resistant bacteria contamination in their samples.

This finding flips the script on the assumption that agriculture runoff or treated wastewater outflows are the main ways antibiotic resistant bacteria are introduced to water systems.

The paper, which was published recently in Water Research, compared water samples that had high levels of antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs) to land use, sewer and septic systems data to determine the source of contamination.

Antibiotic resistance continues to be a major threat to human health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first sounded the alarm to the threat of antimicrobial resistance in 2013, two years later, the World Health Organization issued guidance to combat antimicrobial resistance using a One Health framework that considers the intersecting impacts that humans, animals and the environment have on each other.

In that vein, scientists have been paying close attention to the ways that human and animal waste enters watersheds, which can be a breeding ground for antimicrobial resistant bacteria.

Elizabeth Ottesen, Associate Professor of Microbiology

“There was some recent work out of the USDA in Athens showing that there were widespread antibiotic resistant pathogens in the local streams, so I grew interested in understanding where that was coming from, was it run off from agriculture, either cattle farms in the area or poultry houses, or whether it might be linked to human wastewater,” said senior author Elizabeth Ottesen, an associate professor of microbiology in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts & Sciences.

Ottesen and a team of scientists from UGA, including the College of Public Health and the Odum School of Ecology, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and volunteers from the Upper Oconee Watershed Network collected nearly 1,000 stream samples from 115 sites over 5 years. Then, the samples were analyzed to determine the amount of human and animal fecal waste and ARGs present in them.

“Our initial assumption was that the primary source of human fecal contamination would be incomplete processing of wastewater at the wastewater treatment plant because most of the discussion around human sources of antimicrobial resistance in waters has really focused on wastewater treatment outflows,” she said.

But that’s not what they found. So, the team turned to historical data and maps of local sewer lines and septic systems provided by Athens-Clarke County, which included the location and age, to understand where human waste was entering the water.

Their analysis showed that the samples with the highest levels of ARG contamination matched areas with a high density of sewer lines or aging septic tanks. This suggests that aging water infrastructure, rather than wastewater treatment facilities, could be driving how antibiotic resistant bacteria is spread.

Erin Lipp, Professor of Environmental Health Science

The results set off alarm bells for Ottesen and co-author Erin Lipp, an environmental health scientist in UGA’s College of Public Health.

“I think conventional wisdom has been that when we see antibiotic resistance in streams, it’s mostly from agriculture, and I think this highlights the fact that aging infrastructure can have a lot of impacts that we hadn’t realized before, and water infrastructure is really difficult because we don’t see it leaking, you know. Unless it’s a big break, it’s just happening all the time and you’re not aware of it,” said Lipp.

Athens-Clarke County worked closely with Lipp, Ottesen and their colleagues throughout the study, and county and city leaders are already beginning to target infrastructure improvements based on the data the team provided.

Not all communities may be able to assess these sources of antimicrobial resistance without the type of detailed records the UGA researchers had access to, said Ottesen.

“The ability to then overlay the sewer maps and the septic maps is very unusual, and it’s mainly because of the willingness of Athens-Clarke County to provide us with this really high-quality mapping data,” she said.

The study, “Non-point source fecal contamination from aging wastewater infrastructure is a primary driver of antibiotic resistance in surface waters,” is available online.


We are now accepting proposals from graduate students for the 2023 John Spencer Research Grants program!

The UGA River Basin Center announces the 2023 call for proposals for John Spencer Research Grants to graduate students. This program was initiated in 2017 with a contribution from Kathleen Amos in honor of her son, former RBC master’s student John Spencer. Ongoing funding is provided by donations to the RBC.

Small grants are available to all students affiliated with the River Basin Center. Affiliate status is open to any graduate student at the University of Georgia, including those in professional programs, as long as their research and/or interests align with the RBC mission, which is to connect water-related research at UGA with societal management and policy needs. Students can request affiliate status by emailing co-directors Seth Wenger,, and Sechindra Vallury,

This can be done concurrent with submitting a proposal. Small grants are intended to support a student’s research activities. Projects should advance the RBC’s goal of sustainable management of aquatic resources and ecosystems, but can be in any discipline or disciplines. Funds can be used for research supplies, travel expenses associated with research, hourly wages for undergraduate research assistants and graduate stipends. Travel to conferences may be included, but conference travel funding must be limited to $1000.

Proposal Format (2 page limit, exclusive of budget and references):

Title of proposal

Applicant’s name, email address, department, degree program

Introduction, problem statement, and research question(s) to be tested. Applicants should emphasize the work to be funded by the proposal, but also explain how it fits into the broader context of their thesis, dissertation, or other project, as appropriate. Research questions should be specific and the scope should be appropriate to the scale of the project.

Research plan and methods: Be specific but concise.

Budget with justification

Budgets cannot exceed $2500. If the proposed work requires a budget greater than the limit, briefly explain what other funds will be used to complete the work.


Proposals must be accompanied by a brief (one page limit; one paragraph is sufficient) endorsement from the applicant’s advisor or other faculty sponsor of the work.

Proposals for 2023 are due April 14, 2023. Decisions will be announced 2 weeks later, and funding will be made available shortly thereafter. Funds will need to be spent by June 30, 2024, unless special arrangements are made.

Proposals should be submitted as a single PDF file to Seth Wenger, at, and Sechindra Vallury,, by midnight eastern on April 14, 2023.

Proposals will be evaluated by volunteer faculty affiliates of the RBC who have no conflicts of interest with applicants. Proposals will be evaluated both on quality of the project (potential contribution of the proposed work and relevance to the RBC’s mission) as well as quality of the proposal itself (i.e., how well it communicates the content and whether it includes all necessary components).

A man in a button-down shirt leads a group of students toward a center pivot irrigation system.

Part 2: On the Road—and the River—with the Ecological Problem Solving Class

Agriculture, economics and aquariums—pieces of the puzzle

To travel through southwestern Georgia is to travel through the state’s agricultural hub. As soon as the growing season begins, center pivot irrigation systems roll methodically through sprawling fields, looking like the world’s largest sprinklers. Farming is a physical presence there. By the time the Ecological Problem Solving class arrived in Albany, Georgia last spring, local sweet corn was in full production.

No course built around water sharing and water policy would be complete without an agricultural component—and between visits to Albany State University’s Water Planning and Policy Center and UGA’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park, students learned about the relationship between farming and water.

A man in a button down shirt leads a croup of students toward a center pivot irrigation machine. The horizontal image is bisected by the horizon, with blue sky on top and green fields below.
Students head toward a center pivot at the UGA Stripling Research Park.

Few people are as qualified to speak to the junction of agriculture and water legislation in Georgia as Mark Masters, a researcher, farmer and the director of the Policy Center.

He spoke to the center’s purpose when he presented for the class on the morning of May 31.

“We have all this information about water. We have all these places producing what’s known as hard science about water,” he explained. “So what? What does that mean for policymakers? What does that mean for stakeholders and decision makers? How do we go about taking what we are learning about water and put it into practice? That’s why we were formed. I tell people we’re a think tank.”

And that think tank has implemented meaningful change. Owing to a water metering system pushed by the Policy Center, Georgia deals in in actual numbers when it comes to water use, not models. Georgia’s General Assembly passed the law requiring the system in 2004.

Through a network of meters placed on all agricultural pumps, researchers and lawmakers know, almost to the gallon, where every agricultural water withdrawal comes from and where it goes. Because Georgia’s irrigation permits are based on acreage irrigated, not volume, it’s especially important to precisely measure the state’s agricultural water needs.

Masters described another big policy win. Researchers wanted to know if, during dry seasons, they could pay farmers not to irrigate fields, to better conserve water. It turns out the answer is yes, according to data gathered with the participation of over half of the 150 irrigators in the Ichauway Basin. Farmers were open to a range of bidding systems that might, in drought years, prevent financial disaster for farmers and ecological disaster for aquifers.

But surveys and policies can be hard to conceptualize.

A visit to the UGA’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park demonstrated what Masters had explained to the class.

Calvin Perry, a public service assistant with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, along with Charles Stripling, son of the property’s original land owner, led students on a tour of the grounds—or expanses of farmland, really.

A researcher discusses the parts of a pump used for agricultural water withdrawals.

“We’re going to talk about ag water use and how we irrigate crops—but more importantly, how we use smart irrigation as we irrigate crops today,” said Perry. “[Masters] can tell you, but we’re going to show you.”

And he made good on the promise. Perry and fellow researchers performed a live demonstration of efficient irrigation, turning on a center pivot machine.

He explained that center pivot systems—and even the clunkier drag hose systems—play a crucial role in precision agriculture. They’re fitted with a GPS tracker, and connected to a Vegetation Resources Inventory Map, allowing the pivot to turn on and off at strategic times based on the water needs of a particular section of field. The device sprays with relatively light pressure close to the crop, to reduce water loss through wind. “Ninety percent of a gallon gets to the field,” Perry explained.

Calvin Perry shows students side-by-side examples of irrigated and non-irrigated corn

And the pivots are widely adopted. “About ninety-three percent of irrigated acres down here are using very efficient sprinklers.”

At Perry’s encouragement, students used the machine as exactly that—a sprinkler—when several ran through its spray during the demonstration.

He showed students side by side examples of irrigated and non-irrigated corn, and his assistants showed them live examples of agricultural pumps and the required meter.

Masters and Perry agreed: Knowing when to irrigate is critical for both best water use practices and high crop yields. And they were both quick to point out that irrigation is important not only during seasons of drought, but also in normal rainfall years. The timing of rain doesn’t always coincide with the most critical point in a crop’s growth cycle.

“Irrigated agriculture consistently produces more crops of higher quality, and we generally have the water to do it. In southwest Georgia, somewhere between six and seven billion of farm gate value is generated by the presence of irrigation,” Masters had pointed out earlier that day. “That’s a big deal in a relatively poor part of the state.”

The Flint RiverQuarium

Heads swimming with agriculture research and policy, the students pivoted to a recreational component of the course, making a stop at the Flint RiverQuarium to round out the day.

Home to dozens of species actually found in the Flint River basin, the Flint RiverQuarium was founded on the principle that an informed public becomes motivated to conserve natural systems.

Turtles swim in their tank.

After visiting with the hundreds of critters housed at the facility, Peter Hazelton, Assistant Professor in Aquatic Ecosystem Health at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, spoke to students about his research on the impact of mussel eggs on fish health and respiration.

Although the tour was guided, class members were able to linger as their interests dictated. That self-paced rate offered students time to reflect on the day.

“It’s been cool to finally see the agricultural piece,” said Pearce Buxton. At an earlier stop in the course, when the class observed the Army Corps of Engineers release the floodgates at Lake Seminole, she’d been especially impressed by the sheer power of hydroelectric dams. But Buxton was conscious that what they’d learned at the Water Policy and Stripling centers was an integral piece of the course.

Mckenzie Leatherwood saw the visit to the aquarium as an inspiration for career plans beyond her undergraduate experience at Odum.

“Getting to go and meet these stakeholders, you get to see how excited they are to share their knowledge with you. Even here at the aquarium, our guide—he knows so much, and he wants to share it. I love that part,” she shared. “Because knowing that there are people who care so much is inspiring to someone who is about to leave college and wants to get a job and doesn’t know if they can make an impact.”

Check back soon to read about the students’ educational paddling excursion with the Flint Riverkeeper!

Rasmussen, Jackson offer expertise in documentary series

The Weather Channel featured Todd Rasmussen, River Basin Center affiliate and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources professor, in its series, “The Earth Unlocked,” a segment that explores the power of water, volcanoes, desserts and hurricanes. The eight-episode series concluded in July. Catch the trailer—and hear Rasmussen discuss his area of research, hydrology—here.

Rhett Jackson, River Basin Center affiliate and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources professor, contributed expertise on the Okefenokee Swamp and the Chattahoochee River in three episodes of GPB’s “View Finders,” a show that highlights Georgia’s most beautiful natural features. Learn more about the series here.

Water ripples of a creek with clay staining.

Lake sturgeon may spawn in Georgia again

Research led by Martin Hamel, River Basin Center affiliate and Associate Professor at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, indicates that lake sturgeon may be reproducing in Georgia again for the first time in about five decades.

The story, originally written by Kristen Morales for Warnell’s site, has since been reported nationally by the Associated Press.

Read Morales’s story here and the Associated Press coverage here.

Part 1: On the Road—and the River—with the Ecological Problem Solving Class

Across three state and three rivers: An experiential learning journey

Science doesn’t—and shouldn’t—happen in a vacuum. Amanda Rugenski, lecturer and undergraduate coordinator at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, gets that. 

“To be able to listen to people is really important, not just to the scientists, not just to the water managers, but also to the communities that are present in these areas,” she said.

She hopes the question of who needs to have a seat at the table is something students take away from the Maymester study away course she led (ECOL 3300, Field Program in Ecological Problem Solving), from May 21 to June 4, 2022, with the assistance of Odum graduate students Kristen Zemaitis and Jeffrey Beauvais. 

Rugenski’s class of 19 had ample opportunity to practice listening as they attended presentations and hands-on workshops throughout swaths of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, learning to view environmental issues through a social-ecological lens.

Ecological Problem Solving is an experiential learning course offered annually for Ecology A.B. students, and it’s an anchor course for the Sustainability Certificate. The class is meant to give students a whirlwind introduction to problem solving at the intersection of science, society, and policy. The course is built around one such issue—the tri-state “Water Wars”—and the efforts of a regional organization, the ACF Stakeholders, Inc., to provide solutions through consensus. 

For several decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have disputed water allocation in the ACF Basin. Georgia needs water to support both agriculture in the southern part of the state and the continued growth of Atlanta in the north. Alabama requires water for power, drinking supply, and fisheries, and Florida needs enough water to reach the coast to prevent saltwater intrusion and to sustain its seafood industry.

In response, the ACF Stakeholders—composed of a range of people including civic leaders, farmers, fishermen and researchers across sectors and state lines—aims to foster informed, cooperative and equitable water sharing. 

The group’s goals dovetail perfectly with those of the class. To Rugenski, the organization is illustrative of a critical point. 

“Sometimes when we think of problem solving, people don’t think of humans as being a part of the solution, and others may not think of the environment and ecosystem as being part of the solution. I want students to see how interconnected these all are, to solve these complex problems,” said Rugenski.

Out of the classroom and into the creek: Field experience at the Jones Center

The group experienced the ACF basin from its headwaters to the Gulf Coast, traveling a roughly 1,000-mile loop and visiting as many of the ACF stakeholders as possible along the way to learn first-hand about their perspectives and priorities. Their travels included stops to sample fish in the Chestatee River in North Georgia, a visit from an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a tour of the AgLanta Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill, and a meeting with the West Atlanta Watershed Association.

The group swept through Florida, with highlights including a stop at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, a visit from Dr. Brooke, who presented on the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative and a tour of the bay by boat to learn about restoration projects along Highway 98.

By Memorial Day, the class had wound its way back to southern Georgia, to the Jones Center at Ichauway.

Aquatic biologist Steve Golladay welcomed them to the reserve, or what he calls “30,000 acres of green in a sea of agriculture,” and presented background about the research center and the scope of natural resource management in Georgia.

The center’s threefold focus is on water—the unique hydrology of the mostly free flowing Flint River and its tributary, Ichawaynochaway Creek; woods—preserving its longleaf pine ecosystem; and wildlife—protecting the roughly 1,200 species present on the reserve, partially supported by its isolated wetlands.

On paper, Georgia is a freshwater-rich area, Golladay shared, with an average of about 50 inches of rainwater a year. That’s well above the national average. And the Flint—15 miles of which wends through Ichauway—is partially fed by the rapidly recharging Floridan aquifer, not just runoff and seepage. That makes it an especially reliable source of freshwater.

The challenge is that no single year gets the average amount of rainfall. Some years see 70 inches and others see 30—sometimes several years in a row, leading to periods of stress on water systems and periods of abundance. Sensibly bridging the gap between the two is a major water management goal. 

The Jones Center supports some of the most robust research on longleaf pine management in the country. Of the 30,000 acres on the ecological reserve, longleaf pine forest makes up about 18,000.

A habitat type that once spanned between 60 to 90 million acres of land in the southeastern United States prior to European colonization, longleaf ecosystems are reduced to about four and a half million acres today.

Ichauway’s second-growth pine is now mature, at 80 to 100 years old. It’s the perfect tree cover for Georgia’s on-again, off-again water supply: longleaf pine stops pumping water in drought years. It offers the benefits of forestation without straining water systems in times of water scarcity.

A large part of the center’s mission is providing access to its findings and the physical space itself.

Students head toward the creek.

That’s why, when his presentation was over, Golladay took the students to Ichawaynochaway Creek to go “mussel hugging,” a term he uses to encompass both the process of finding and identifying mussels and the unbridled enthusiasm with which he feels that task should be undertaken.

Golladay lectures from Ichawaynochaway Creek, camera in-hand.

Graduate student Jamie Rogers and research associate Caitlin Sweeney, with the help of student volunteers, set up a kick net and searched for critters. The water was clouded, but the murky flow was actually the result of staining from swamps up river, Golladay explained. It’s normally quite clear, with visibility sometimes reaching 15 feet.

Jamie Rogers and Caitlin Sweeney demonstrate how to use a kick net to gather samples.

Though no mussels were found, students discovered minnows, small fish, insects and several crayfish. It’s the kind of field experience and tactile learning that Golladay says the center is all about.

“I think one of the things that we offer at Ichauway is a real field experience. We’re all field-oriented, and so it gives people a chance to come and stay here, to see what we do out in the world. Especially now, given that we’re coming out of two years of virtual learning, the role of places like Ichawauy has become extremely important,” Golladay said.

Tina Vu inspects a net for insects, her favorite critters.

And students were conscious of that. For class member Alanna Deveter, the interactive nature of the course wasn’t just a perk—it was integral to her learning experience.

“I definitely prefer this type of learning environment to just sitting in a classroom,” she shared. “I have a pretty busy brain. So hands-on works for me. It’s an actual experience where I get to have my own perspective.”

And with each stop, students’ perspectives became more and more informed.

This kind of experiential learning is available to all A.B Ecology majors and students pursuing the Sustainability Certificate. Current and prospective students can learn more here.

Check back soon to read about the students’ stop at the Albany State’s Water Policy Center, UGA’s Stripling Center and the Flint RiverQuarium!

Sechindra Vallury, wearing a backpack, jeans and a gray T-shirt poses with Rebecca Shelton, who wears a red jacket. A light colored dog perches in front of them and behind them Lava Lake in Gallatin Canyon, Montana is visible.


Sechindra Vallury, a researcher in natural resource management and policy with a focus on how institutions can shape water governance and equity outcomes, didn’t always know he wanted to be a social scientist.

He completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad, India. In his early career, he worked as a business consultant in supply chain management, with clientele on the Fortune 500 list. 

“My work really got me interested in land-use and water policies of South Asian countries,” said Vallury. “I then decided to do my master’s in natural resource management to understand how these different policies could affect water governance.” He eventually decided on the Environmental Studies and Resource Management program, with a concentration in economics, at the TERI School of Advanced Studies in New Delhi, India. 

It was his PhD program that brought him to the states—and narrowed his focus to water institutions and policy. He pursued that track at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability from 2014 to 2019, with professors Joshua K. Abbott and John M. Anderies as his advisors. His research took an interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on institutional economics; he focused on the sources of environmental inequality and the distributional consequences of water policy. 

Since then, he’s studied and published about water and land resource management, mostly in southern India and the western U.S., as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University, and more recently at the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation at University of Montana.

Despite the seemingly disparate geographic and topical focuses of Vallury’s research, it’s strongly conceptually linked.

“Underlying my work is this view that I take of the world: most significant environmental conflicts and distributional concerns that we face today are caused by cooperation or coordination dilemmas,” explained Vallury. This theoretical lens offers cohesion to his research, whether he’s looking at rangeland conservation in the American West or water resource management in South Asia and Africa. “Through application of political-economic theory and diverse quantitative methods, I endeavor to provide practical solutions to address these dilemmas and improve environmental and climate change adaptation policies across communities at multiple levels of decision-making.”

Vallury has worked with a spectrum of scientists during and since his PhD, and that interdisciplinary bent is exactly what drew him to Athens.

On August 1, Vallury joined Odum School of Ecology as an assistant professor, and the River Basin Center as its new director of policy, a change he’s enthusiastic about.

“I think what interested me was the fact that this is a policy position in an ecology school, with a specific emphasis on water governance research. The RBC has a rich history of connecting interdisciplinary water-related research at UGA with management and policy and I am excited to continue and enrich that legacy,” said Vallury, whose graduate experiences left him comfortable in highly interdisciplinary and collaborative spaces. “There is a need for collaborations across disciplines in order to fully understand and address the social-ecological problems that we face today.”

Vallury isn’t alone in anticipating meaningful collaboration.

“The Odum School of Ecology is delighted to welcome Dr. Vallury to UGA,” said Intrim Dean Sonia Altizer. “As a leading expert on land and water resource management, he brings unique and important research and teaching expertise, with great relevance for supporting both environmental sustainability and human well-being.”

When not writing, teaching or conducting research, Vallury has plenty to keep him busy. Though the pace of academia can be frenetic, he loves building computers in his free time.

His partner Rebecca Shelton balances a role as director of policy at a nonprofit in eastern Kentucky with completing her PhD, but the two try to find time to get outside. “We love to find new hikes and be in the wilderness,” he said.

They share two dogs, June and Mabel, who he describes as “a couple of goofballs.”

After several moves for school and work, including stints of long distance, the couple is looking forward to settling into Athens.

And beyond that, Vallury said he’s eager to join the Odum and RBC community.

“I’m very excited about joining the RBC and the Odum school. I believe this position provides a fantastic opportunity for me to collaborate with other biophysical and social scientists at UGA to help address water problems efficiently and equitably both regionally and globally,” said Vallury.