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Western Michigan University's First Freshwater Science and Sustainability Students Graduate from WMU-Traverse City
Oct 4, 2016
Western Michigan University's First Freshwater Science and Sustainability Students Graduate from WMU-Traverse City
John Lutchko of Traverse City was one of WMU-Traverse City’s first two graduates of the Freshwater Science and Sustainability Program.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich., Oct. 4, 2016—The first two students enrolled in WMU-Traverse City’s Freshwater Science and Sustainability Program, John Lutchko of Traverse City and Erica Plesha of Frankfort recently earned their Bachelor of Science degrees.

WMU’s FSS program was launched two years ago to prepare students to address the complex regional, national and global challenges related to the sustainability of freshwater resources. The program was originally designed for students graduating from a community college with an associate degree in environmental or freshwater studies. WMU-Traverse City and Northwestern Michigan College offer a collaboration that allows NMC students to transfer seamlessly into WMU’s FSS program although the program is comprised of students from many majors and colleges within the area, state and nation.

“We are excited for our first two Freshwater Science and Sustainability graduates and know they are prepared to excel in the field,” said Kim Stevens, WMU-Traverse City assistant director. “Nearly one in five jobs in Michigan is now water-related and WMU is fortunate to offer this one-of-a-kind program in an area where experts in freshwater are in demand.”

Photo of Erica Plesha on a boat with equipment in the water
Erica Plesha of Frankfort was one of WMU-Traverse City’s first two graduates of the Freshwater Science and Sustainability Program.

Plesha attended WMU as a non-traditional student. During her time at WMU she worked with Dr. Harvey Bootsma, marine biologist and limnologist at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin, to conduct research on how nutrients are cycling in Lake Michigan and the disruptive impacts of quagga mussels.

“WMU professors and my work at Good Harbor Bay (at Sleeping Bear Dunes) allowed me to understand the changes taking place beneath the surface of the Great Lakes and know that the lake’s ecosystem has changed in the past 15 years,” said Plesha. “I’m excited to continue to apply what I’ve learned at WMU to further identify solutions that keep our local ecosystem safe.”

Lutchko graduated from WMU as one of 50 Presidential Scholars who are selected from among some 6,500 graduating seniors. During his time at WMU, he interned at NMC where he developed expertise in operating underwater operated vehicles and numerous sonar systems. Currently, he holds a position at NMC as the marine technology laboratory coordinator and primary POV pilot. He also is a watershed technician at the Lake Leelanau Lake Association.

“The Freshwater Science and Sustainability program has allowed me to excel in my positions at NMC and the Lake Association because it has not only provided me with a solid science background, but also a background in policy, economics, and sustainable practices,” said Lutchko. “There is no question the well-rounded program has made me extremely desirable in the workplace, and I have found that employers are impressed by my skill set.”

The FSS program currently has more than 50 students enrolled. The program uses a hybrid format that includes mostly online classes, with several classroom meetings that allow students to conduct field lab research in rivers, lakes, streams, and fisheries.

Check out the "Creating future Great Lakes advocates" Record Eagle lead story.