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Reisner heads new Upper Mississippi Studies Center

February  15, 2013

Dr. Michael Reisner

Augustana College is developing a new Upper Mississippi Studies Center that will be far more than its name implies under the direction of Dr. Michael Reisner, a new member of the faculty who was recruited for the director’s position after a national search.

Under Dr. Reisner, the Upper Mississippi Studies Center (UMSC) will assume a leading role in sustainability science, which seeks to build lasting relationships between people and the natural resources that surround them. While the principle can be applied on any scale, on a large scale, it might mean better protection of rivers and streams that flow to the Mississippi River. They carry runoff that can add problems such as pollution and sediment. Or, with proper management, they can help keep our waterways safe for navigation, recreation and wildlife for years to come. The goal of sustainability science is to recognize the long-term health of these waterways is critical to both our economic vitality, and human well-being.

Sustainability science is a rapidly emerging field that is building momentum nationally. Augustana College has taken a leading role in these initiatives, and a generous grant by the Margaret Cargill Foundation allowed the college to establish the UMSC. Dr. Reisner now brings a wealth of expertise as a leading figure in his own right to the movement.

Dr. Reisner earned his Ph.D. in ecosystem and restoration ecology from Oregon State University and J.D. from the University of Oregon School of Law. In Montana, he helped to negotiate an agreement between miners and conservation groups that helped to create about 1,000 family-wage jobs in a rural area, without degrading the water or air quality. At the University of Wisconsin, his work focused on creating more sustainable energy systems for the upper Midwest. Along the way, he helped to build better relationships between the academic community and the broader community outside—businesses, neighborhoods and conservation groups.

“We have to stop looking for panaceas or silver bullets,” Dr. Reisner said. “Our communities face complex challenges that involve interactions between social, economic, institutional and environmental dimensions. We need to work collaboratively to develop and implement complex solutions.”

A watershed moment for Dr. Reisner came as a boy. He visited Cairo, Ill., and remembers a breathtaking view—the great confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. But his lasting impression was spoiled by pollution, industrial waste and mind-numbing poverty. “Nearly three decades after I first visited the town as a third grader, things are the same, at the very least, and arguably have grown worse,” he said.

No one, apparently, had brought competing interests together to rebuild the community. No one thought of sustainability. 

Dr. Reisner also will engage Augustana students in the center’s projects, challenging them to think in new ways that use interdisciplinary approaches, acknowledge competing interests, and find ways to compromise behind a common cause. Most of those causes will deal with adapting to a changing world in which sustainability science will be taking center stage.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833