As a second year student in Winnipeg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Scholar Sarah michaels recreated the Red River flood in 1950 with play dough on his teacher’s desk. Now she’s back in Canada to tackle the understanding of flooding once again.
Michaels, professor of political science and faculty member at the Center for Public Policy at the University of Nebraska, has been appointed Fulbright Canada Distinguished Research Chair in Environmental Sciences at Carleton University. She is spending the 2021-2022 academic year at the Ottawa Institution exploring innovative approaches to environmental policy with colleagues from Carleton, the University of Ottawa, and nearby government and non-government organizations.
Michaels’ sophomore project marked the start of a lifelong fascination with water management, including flooding.
“Floods are the most devastating form of natural disaster on the planet,” said Michaels, who has worked in Nebraska since 2007.
For her undergraduate thesis, she studied stormwater retention ponds then in use in municipalities across Canada.
Michaels’ Fulbright Project seeks to improve best practices for dealing with flood threats by addressing how to productively engage with uncertainty in water governance.
“Fulbright is about fostering understanding between people from different countries,” Michaels said. “One of the reasons I’m in Ottawa is to help Canadians understand what could we water management and, more specifically, what works in Nebraska.
Nebraska is known internationally for its distinctive system of natural resource districts constituting locally controlled, tax-funded, watershed-based conservation.
On the other hand, Michaels asked, “What are they doing in Canada that deserves our attention in Nebraska and elsewhere in the United States?” “
Being part of the Fulbright program offers another opening for Michaels, a social scientist with experience in participating in interdisciplinary research, to collaborate with environmental scientists.
“I consider this opportunity to be a great privilege,” she said.
When asked if plasticine could play a role in her work again, Michaels laughed.
“I understand from some of my young friends (that) plasticine has come a long way,” she said. “They assured me that if I were to recreate the flood model now, I wouldn’t do as much damage.”