Senior Nisha Nadkarni ’20, is an Environmental Sciences major in the University of Vermont (UVM) Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. She combined her academic work with her interests in community development and water quality to engage with local residents to improve stormwater quality in the Lake Champlain watershed.
Nisha began her journey at UVM intending to study exercise science, but she switched into the Rubenstein School a week before classes started.
“I’m so glad that I made that decision and followed my gut rather than realizing junior or senior year this was something I was interested in,” she said.
Originally from Westborough, Massachusetts, Nisha chose UVM because she wanted to stay in New England but explore beyond her hometown. She says that Vermont has been the perfect balance for her.
During the spring of her sophomore year, Nisha became interested in water quality, and she started looking for ways to learn more outside the classroom through research.
“It’s really awesome that we have these research opportunities directly within Rubenstein,” she said. “I applied to a few related to water quality and got the chance to work at the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory on the waterfront. That was my first foray into field work and working on a research vessel.”
Nisha spent the summer after her sophomore year working with Dr. Mindy Morales-Williams, a professor in the Rubenstein School. As an intern in Dr. Morales-Williams’ lab, Nisha investigated how excess nitrogen and phosphorus influence cyanobacteria populations in northeastern lakes.
“That experience exposed me to the inner workings of research and experimental design,” she said.
To complement her Environmental Sciences major, Nisha chose a concentration in Ecological Design. She collaborated with her peers on a constructed wetland project and bio retention cells.
“It was awesome to do these hands-on projects and see water get treated from a system that a group of us built together,” said Nisha. “That really reinforced my interest.”
Deciding to explore stormwater further, the summer after her junior year, Nisha took an internship with Blue BTV, a program that partnered the City of Burlington, Vermont with Lake Champlain International and Lake Champlain Sea Grant. Here, she consulted with local residents on how best to manage stormwater on their properties.
“I talked with a lot of different people—real face-to-face conversations with local residents—about how we can all collectively work together to improve the water quality of Lake Champlain because we’re all living in this watershed and it’s our livelihood,” said Nisha.
The transition from collecting data and conducting lab work to engaging with communities both challenged and motivated Nisha, who was used to the STEM fields and working with data, evidence, and statistics.
"Visiting people’s homes and talking to them about stormwater infrastructure to put on their property was different,” said Nisha. “They’re not coming from that perspective of stats and numbers; they just want to know what they can do to contribute. It made me excited that there can be a collaboration between these communities and the scientific world.”
Nisha has accepted a position to work as a consultant with Blue BTV after graduating in May.
“I want to keep exploring,” she said. “Wherever I end up, I want to truly know the place and know the history before I came to be there. I want to have a connection to wherever I am.”