Voices of the Future

By Sarah Ross, NWNL Project Manager. Photos by Alison M Jones.

INTRO (by Alison M Jones, NWNL Director):  Watershed education is one of three NWNL Mission Goals. Thus since 2007, NWNL has hosted student interns and blog posts. In 2020, NWNL Project Manager Sarah Ross formalized this focus by creating a NWNL NextGen Blog Series. Our new NWNL NextGen Slack channel allows our growing team of college students, graduates and high school seniors to discuss watershed values, threats and solutions.

NWNL welcomes NextGen Blog Proposals from higher-level students or graduates researching watershed issues.

The last few years have underscored the power of youth in environmental action. Since the completion of our final NWNL watershed expedition to document Egypt’s Nile River Basin (Nov. 2019), one major goal has been to further support watershed education. Thus in early 2020, we launched our NextGen Blog series as a mentoring and publication opportunity for college students and graduates researching freshwater and related environmental issues.

Since school closures began in early March (due to the COVID 19 pandemic), we have worked with 12 passionate students pursuing careers in environmental science, nonprofit stewardship and journalism. Already NWNL has published 20 of their blog posts. To further help these bloggers, NWNL has set up a NextGen Slack channel designed for this NextGen team’s communications, messaging and file-sharing. In this new NWNL community, our student bloggers can pursue their common interests together and brainstorm potential blog topics. Already, our NextGen Blog posts have covered a wide range of critical watershed topics, including PFAS contamination, climate change, Indigenous rights and granting rivers environmental personhood rights.

NWNL has utilized its supportive team of Partners and Advisors to help connect these freshwater stewards and scientists of tomorrow with some of today’s top environmentalists. We are proud to support so many NextGen authors focused on environmental justice and the growing inequities and intensification of global water issues facing minority and low-income populations.

As we continue to welcome more student contributors to our NWNL NextGen Blog, below are summaries of some our most popular and thought-provoking NextGen posts of this year!


A graduate of Rutgers University, Rachel Rebello wrote a 4-part blog series on PFAS (“Forever Chemicals”) that are contaminating NWNL’s 3 US case study watersheds. Her extensive and valuable research looks at PFAS in NJ’s Raritan River Basin, the Mississippi River Basin and the Columbia River Basin (Part 1 and 2). NWNL connected Rachel with our Advisor Dr. Judy Shaw for advice on law school applications, and now congratulates Rachel as she embarks on her first semester at Boston University Law School. This brings her one step closer to a promising future in environmental law.    


Recent graduate of SUNY Oneonta in central NY, Marianne Swan is pursuing a career in environmental sustainability. Her blog on the rise of “Environmental Personhood” presents a dynamic solution to today’s critical need to protect global freshwater resources. While the effectiveness of “Environmental Personhood” continues to be debated, the movement does signify “a growing recognition of the critical relationship between humans and the natural world.”


This NextGen Blog post by Stony Brook University student Johanna Mitra highlights the value of “Citizen Science” in New Jersey’s Raritan River Basin. “Citizen Science” is the collaboration between scientists and untrained people that promotes scientific research on a community-level. Johanna discusses her motivating interview with Dr. Heather Fenyk, a NWNL Partner and Founding Director of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. Water-quality assessments by citizen scientists in the Lower Raritan have allowed decision makers and other stakeholders to determine critical at-risk areas and prioritize their restoration efforts. 


California native, Ruby O’Connor now studies Liberal Arts in Ireland at the University College of Dublin, applying her strong concerns for environmental and social justice. Ruby’s investigation into America’s growing water crisis covers the multi-pronged dangers of aging infrastructure, rising utility bills, climate change challenges, and polluted waters facing communities of color subject to higher risks of a lack of available and clean fresh water.

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