Interdisciplinary stormwater team earns award

Katie Pekarek explains the value of stormwater as a resource to a group of students. (Courtesy photo)
Katie Pekarek explains the value of stormwater as a resource to a group of students. (Courtesy photo)

UNL's Stormwater Management Education Team has received the 2013 Outstanding Team Gold Award from the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals (ANREP) for its stormwater management programming.

Team members recognized in the nomination include Kelly Feehan, extension educator; Tom Franti, associate professor, biological systems engineering and Extension surface water management engineer; Bobbi Holm, assistant Extension educator; Steve Rodie, associate professor, agronomy and horticulture; Katie Pekarek, assistant Extension educator; and David Shelton professor, biological systems engineering and Extension agricultural engineer.

"It is a significant honor given the caliber of extension programming across the country and the quality of teams that are nominated," Rodie said. "Extension at its roots relies on integrated team efforts to maximize the value and impact of educational programs — so to receive a national team award in extension is especially rewarding."

Shelton plans to attend the 2013 Joint Council of Extension Professionals Galaxy IV Convention in Pittsburgh and will accept the award for the team at the awards banquet on Sept. 19. The award "recognizes achievements of interdisciplinary, interagency and/or other teams that exhibit leadership and excellence in planning, designing, delivering and evaluating an extension natural resources program."

As the contact person for the nomination, Rodie said that some time had passed since the nomination submittal and news that his team had won came unexpectedly.

"I received word from the ANREP awards chairperson while checking emails one week into my summer vacation trip in late July," he said. "It had been several months since the nomination submittal, so the news was a complete surprise, and was immediately forwarded to my teammates. If you’re going to check emails on vacation, this was one worth finding."

The stormwater team was initiated in 2007 to address a shifting paradigm — one that was moving away from the traditional view that treated stormwater in urban areas as a problem and toward the new view that sees stormwater as a resource that should be retained.

"The primary goal of this group is to improve water quality while conserving water resources through integrated education," Pekarek said. "This implies behavior change among citizens throughout Nebraska. I would like a shift in the way we view, appreciate and manage all of our water."

In 2010, the team received a USDA-NIFA grant, enabling the group to expand and build upon its stormwater management and education programs. Although that grant concludes in 2014, the team shows no signs of slowing down and is in the process of pursuing other funding sources to continue its education efforts.

"We currently have a significant amount of momentum and critical mass that we hope to leverage into further programming for cities and communities across Nebraska," Rodie said. "The cost-effective management of stormwater quantity and quality is in the regulatory, monetary and quality-of-life interests of communities and citizens across the state, and our team is looking forward to continued efforts to maximize management investments and benefits."

With a stormwater engineer, a landscape architect, an agricultural engineer, two biological systems engineers and a horticulturalist on board, the team's inherent diversity is a trait that the group sees as key to its continued success.

"Our team is quite diverse," Pekarek said. "(We are) very integrated and most of our extension, research and teaching activities have some overlap."

In addition to its diversity, Rodie said he attributes the team's accomplishments to several factors, including committed graduated students, the willingness from every team member to assume different roles for programming and a genuine interest in the importance of green infrastructure, youth education and community quality-of-life.

"We've enjoyed working together, we've had fun and we're looking forward to more of the same," he said.

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources

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