National network launches Wisconsin cohort of community science projects

For the first time, the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange program is bringing together a cohort of Wisconsin community science projects that will move forward locally-identified priorities.

AGU is a national Earth and space science nonprofit association that oversees Thriving Earth Exchange–a free program that matches communities with a volunteer project manager, or Community Science Fellow, and technical experts. 

“We are so grateful to the 14 Wisconsin communities who invited us to work with them. This is our first state-focused cohort, and for me, it’s even more special to do this work here, since I grew up just south of Beloit,” Thriving Earth Exchange Director Raj Pandya said. “Thriving Earth is all about being a scientific ally to local communities. For us, it’s never about telling people what science says they should do, it’s always about asking people what they think needs to be done, and then finding ways that science can help.”

For the April 2022 cohort, UniverCity Alliance (UCA) is partnering with Thriving Earth Exchange to bring together Wisconsin communities. UCA is a program on UW-Madison’s campus that connects local governments across the state with university resources to solve community problems. 

“This is a first-of-its-kind partnership where Thriving Earth is working with a statewide cohort. We hope communities can find commonalities between projects and build a network of sustainability- and resiliency-minded communities across the state so we can build a culture of protecting our natural resources,” UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter said. “This cohort could help us elevate and depoliticize the discussion about greening Wisconsin’s infrastructure through this statewide and national partnership!” 

UCA works with local Wisconsin communities each year through its hallmark UniverCity Year program. UCA is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N), a national network of more than 30 educational institutions partnering with cities throughout the United States and world, which is supporting the Thriving Earth Exchange effort.

“The goals of UniverCity Alliance–supporting communities to become sustainable and resilient–align with Thriving Earth Exchange,” Luter said. “We both trust communities to identify what projects matter most to them and then work with them to move forward on their priorities.” 

The April 2022 cohort represents communities from as far north as the City of Ashland, to the state’s southern border in the City of Beloit. It touches the western edge in La Crosse and includes Wisconsin’s capital city and county seat in the City of Madison and Dane County.  

Communities in the Wisconsin cohort will pursue a range of project topics, including tree canopies, greenhouse gas emissions, heat waves, biodiversity and flood prevention. Several projects address PFAS contamination concerns and issues of water quality. 

Thriving Earth Exchange will now take these projects to a network of national experts who can help formulate solutions to the identified problems. Each community is also paired with a Community Science Fellow who volunteers as a project manager to advance the work. 

Since its inception in 2013, Thriving Earth Exchange has worked with nearly 200 communities in 39 states and 10 countries. They work with a variety of partners, including scientific organizations, academia, federal institutions and community-facing organizations. 

Thriving Earth Exchange also supports organizations outside of the United States seeking to adapt Thriving Earth’s approach to community science for their region or country.  

Meet the April 2022 cohort of communities in this Thriving Earth Exchange announcement.