Reflections on my two years at CGRER


The Iowa Advanced Technologies Laboratory, left, houses the University of Iowa's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. (Optical Science and Technology Center/University of Iowa)
The Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, left, houses the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. (Optical Science and Technology Center/University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | August 5, 2016

It’s hard to believe that it’s been just over two years since I first entered the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories – which I had previous referred to as the shiny metal building next to the Iowa Memorial Union – to interview for a graduate assistantship with the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

Despite having studied at the UI for my undergrad and the fact that I have had a casual interest in the environment for as long as I can remember, I had never heard of CGRER prior to my interview. I interviewed with CGRER’s Outreach and Community Education Director Joe Bolkcom – whose name I was quite familiar with from constantly reading about his efforts as a state senator – who made it clear from the start that his work with CGRER is separate from his work in the Iowa legislature. Though I had no formal experience covering scientific issues, I was offered the position because of the journalistic skills I had developed as an undergrad and during my time as a reporter with the Iowa City Press-Citizen. My colleague, KC McGinnis, was hired at the same time I was and similar to me he had little formal experience covering environmental or scientific issues. Joe felt that KC and I would compliment each other well as he was more of the multimedia expert while my specialty was writing.

During my two year stint with CGRER I not only learned a tremendous amount about environmental policy in the Hawkeye State specifically and environmental research more broadly but I also informally served as a teacher educating my friends, family, and others about these issues. Whenever possible I avoided the partisan divisiveness often associated with environmental issues and instead focused on the positives. As a lifelong Iowan I’m proud to tell people about how this upper-Midwestern state with just over three million inhabitants is a national leader in wind energy. Or how there is tremendous potential for solar energy in the Hawkeye State despite cold and snowy winters that occupy about a quarter of the year. I’ve even had intelligent and civil conversations with farmers about the benefits of cover crops, no-till, and other conservation practices, even though I know we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on many political issues.

My time at CGRER was not only a learning experience for me in terms of the environment but I was also able to further develop my journalistic skills, especially in terms of multimedia. I felt that I learned more about video production working with KC during two short years than I did during any of my formal education.

My two years with CGRER has paid off as next week I will begin my new position as a Communications Specialist for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. (Don’t worry I’ll always be a Hawkeye at heart!) I am confident in the abilities of KC and I’s replacements – a graduate student from the College of Education and an incoming freshman – and am eager to see the direction they take things. There are already talks of revising our On The Radio segments to follow more of a longer-form podcast format, which as an avid podcast listener myself, I think has potential to be awesome.

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my time at CGRER is that many of these environmental issues should not be political. I’m not a scientist myself but I understand that a certain amount of skepticism is important with scientific research but there’s a difference between healthy skepticism and outright denying what is perceived as fact by the majority of the scientific community. I understand that politicians and lobbyists often have business interests which will influence their opinions. While I would still disagree with them on ideological grounds, it would be a step in the right direction if these politicians would come out and say “I’m not going to deny the science but I disagree with this policy because I think it’s detrimental to a particular business or economic interest.”

I’m not one to buy into American exceptionalism but I think higher education is one thing we truly do right in this country. (With that said, I think there are always ways higher education can be improved.) During my time at the University of Iowa, I have met hundreds of students from dozens of different countries, all of whom came to the UI to get a world class education. Not only should we as country be quick to welcome these international students to our colleges and universities but we should do more to support the scientific research taking place as opposed to denying it, especially when that opposition is often based in political ideology as opposed to scientific fact.

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