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Alumni Community Profile: The River Stewards

Alumni Community Profile: The River Stewards

Gita Balakrishnan April 30, 2019

The leadership development, awareness and appreciation of waterways, experiential learning and friendships forged are elements River Stewards alumni continue to remember even years after leaving campus.

River Stewards is a program of the Rivers Institute in the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community. Since it began in 2007, with the first graduating cohort in 2010, the three-year interdisciplinary program engages undergraduate students in initiatives that mainly center around the Great Miami River Watershed. Each program consists of three cohorts totaling 50 students who represent more than 25 majors from around campus.

Allie Rakowski ’14 works for the Savannah River Ecology Lab at the University of Georgia as a lab manager for a wildlife ecology lab. She said she values the close sense of community she feels with her cohort more than four years after graduation and more than 500 miles away from campus.

“We spent a lot of time together for the program and developed friendships and bonds that extended out of River Stewards,” she said. “It’s really difficult not to feel a bond or connection with open-minded people who share similar interests but have different experiences.”

And those experiences are shared by many alumni of the program.

“I would not be where I am today without the program,” said Sarah Berger ’17, who works on a vineyard in Napa, California, educating visitors on the role of water in viniculture.

“I gained so much confidence through community outreach, leading kayaking tours and all of the projects and programs in between. Everyone had a leadership role. The accountability of a group of peers I respect promoted my ability to trust and depend on others,” Berger added.

Many, including Nolan Nicaise ’11, said that without participation in the program, his current community efforts and his profession may not have manifested.

“My work was impacted by being a River Steward,” said Nicaise, who works as an environmental compliance specialist with BP U.S. Pipelines and Logistics in Chicago. “I work daily with Clean Water Act regulations as they pertain to pipelines in wetlands and streams.”

And he is not alone. After graduating, Rakowski remained interested in the environment and taught about the habitats of turkeys to a teen ambassadors program during her master’s. Berger continues to volunteer with her local watershed community.

Nicaise advises incoming first-year-students to investigate the benefits of the program that span well beyond the undergraduate years.

“It is through canoeing and kayaking the river that you bond with others, observe the river and its nuances, beauties and problems, and form a connection with place that will drive your academic and professional futures,” he said.

As for the community, it can be said though the river stays fluid, the memories made on it remain forever intact.