Bringing Science to the Citizens
Bringing Science to the Citizens
Alycia Bean and her friends were finishing the last leg of their 550-mile hike through the Colorado Trail. As they approached one of the last summits on the trail in the Weminuche Wilderness, Bean spotted a familiar enclave of buildings in the town of Durango, where she just finished her bachelor’s degree in political science.
That sight signaled more than just the end of a trip. It was the beginning of a new journey, and it brought Bean to tears.
“In a fleeting moment, I went from living in nature to realizing that I needed to leave it for a job,” Bean said. “But thanks to all the amazing experiences of this trip, I had the answer: I wanted to make a difference doing environmental work with people who are like-minded.”
Since that decision 17 years ago, Bean advanced far on her chosen path, nearly finishing her Ph.D. degree at the University of Idaho and starting a new position as a program manager for the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute (IWWRI).
Bean leads IWRRI’s new and ambitious citizen science initiative, an effort that will allow IWRRI to expand the scope of its water quality studies more broadly to the watershed level. She is the critical link between IWRRI, its stakeholders and the Pacific Northwest’s citizens as she builds and expands her citizen science campaigns through planning, recruiting and retaining volunteers and other stakeholders, overseeing programs and evaluating campaign success.
“I fell in love with the outdoors,” said Bean. “Once you get invested and care about something, it seeps into your work. I want to make sure I’m making a meaningful contribution to the things I care about, and this position allows me to do just that.”
Bean will soon initiate a citizen science campaign that focuses on collecting phosphate and nitrate measurements throughout the state of Idaho.
Bean will bring together, train and equip citizen scientists to periodically collect water samples on an ongoing basis. Bean’s colleagues will then test the samples--up to 80 at once--using IWRRI’s newly acquired AQ400 device, which is capable of accurately detecting impurities in the parts-per-billion range.
“Alycia’s role requires a strong ability to connect with a multitude of stakeholders and experts across a wide range of disciplines,” said Alan Kolok, IWRRI program director. “She’s a very personable, efficient and highly capable person--and clearly the right person for this job.”
Bean immerses herself in her work for both personal and professional reasons. “I selfishly want to see that we have good water quality--and quantity--for myself and my family,” she said. “I also want to make a difference in my job. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. That’s so much more rewarding for me.”
Bean plans to extend IWRRI’s scientific reach beyond its traditional Boise River and northern Idaho lakes and into the Pacific Northwest region. Gathering data from waters from a broader geographical area permits larger-scale, regional level science projects, such as cross-comparison studies.
A Non-traditional path through school
After graduating from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Bean went to work as a project manager for AmeriCorps, a federal volunteer program. She spent nearly 10 years partnering with environmental agencies, nonprofits and business groups, bridging scientific knowledge to audiences outside the research community and building a solid network of supporters.
Bean, by all accounts, succeeded in her job, but she became so enamored with the broad interconnectedness of water issues that she left her career to pursue advanced studies on the topic.
“Water is fascinating, especially because there are so many aspects of it,” Bean said. “It’s not something that any one individual with one background can study from beginning to end. It connects so many different academic disciplines--not to mention other things like recreation, tradition and culture.”
Bean came to the University of Idaho, first getting her Master of Science degree in Environmental Science and Natural Resources and then advancing to a Ph.D. candidacy through U of I’s college of Science, focusing her dissertation on water rights and the impacts of drought on the state of Idaho. She expects to graduate in the fall.
“I take pride in my work,” she said. “Since I’ve been a member of Moscow community for so long, I want to make a good impression. I want to be known for what I do and do it well.”
Those interested in joining or partnering in Bean’s initiatives can contact her at [email protected].