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Posted 11/16/2018

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By Shaina Souder
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, Buffalo District Biologist, Michael Voorhees participated as one of many stakeholders in a Geography Awareness Week event held annually at the University at Buffalo, November 13, 2018.

The event was a held in a courtroom on the University at Buffalo campus where the stakeholders sat in the jury seating area, while students presented one and half-minute “lightning” Powerpoint presentations in front of the judges stand, while all remaining students and guests sat in the back of the room for observation. 

Dr. Chris Renschler, associate professor of geography, hosted the event with his Integrated Environmental Management class which consists of approximately 40 undergraduate and graduate level students in Geography, Environmental Science, and Law.   These students presented their ideas for the Cattaraugus Creek watershed to stakeholders to gain a real experience of the process before they enter the workforce.  The focus of the event was on integrated management approaches addressing current water resource challenges in the Cattaraugus Creek watershed.   

“My hope is this provides the students some real experience of what the process is like,” said Renschler reflecting on having their stakeholder-student interaction prior to graduation.  “There will not be any environmental change if we do not have social change.”

Many stakeholders were invited and some others voluntarily attended, as the event was open to the public.  Stakeholders present included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Erie County Department of Environmental Planning – Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance, Seneca Nation of Indians – Emergency Management, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Sea Grant, and Trout Unlimited. 

Each student picked a stakeholder and a problem they could focus on for their presentation in one of the following areas that affect the Cattaraugus Creek watershed: source water & upland areas, riparian buffers, channel banks & beds, coastal zone & harbor, wetlands & floodplains, and groundwater & sewer systems.    

In groups of six or seven students, each student presented their topic to the stakeholders presenting baseline information, alternatives how they could improve that focus area, and their best recommendation.  Students were also encouraged to list benefits and costs of their proposed projects.  

Stakeholders took notes during the presentations and subsequently provided feedback to the students including positive comments and items that they should consider to include for their future as professionals.  Majority of the stakeholders had worked together previously and were readily able to respond to students collaborating with each other’s comments. The students are concurrently working on papers about the same topic, so the chance to present and receive feedback may provide additional information to include in their papers. 

“Being able to connect with professionals in a different aspect will help me progress in the future as a professional,” said Christopher Mussachio, a senior undergraduate in environmental science.

The Corps’ participation in this event demonstrates that the Corps of Engineers does not do anything alone and stays involved with many partners in other areas such as interagency, local/regional/state leaders, contractors, and other organizations in the community.  This allows the Corps of Engineers to conduct innovative research and developments facilitating economic growth, quality of life, environmental health and national security for the American people.

“Education and outreach with building trust in communities is incredibly important,” said Voorhees.  “The goal is to work together with our partners to drive change in the Cattaraugus Creek watershed and create positive change.”

At the end of the presentations, associate professor Renschler sought input from stakeholders on the format the students presented in and what could be improved for next year.  Suggestions from stakeholders included engaging the stakeholders more about their topics and continuing the holistic approach format used this year.  Stakeholders look forward to continue participation and hear the innovative ideas the students have.

Buffalo District Cattaraugus Creek Corps of Engineers stakeholders students USACE watershed