Jean Bahr

Professor Emerita, Department of Geoscience (formerly Geology and Geophysics)

For UW-Madison Professor Emerita of Geoscience Jean Bahr, Earth Day has always had a special place in her life.

So, it was more than a happy coincidence when Bahr, a California native, accepted a faculty position in Wisconsin, the home of Earth Day. From there, it wasn’t long before she became involved with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which is named after U.S. Senator and Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson.

Jean Bahr

A proponent of interdisciplinary research, Bahr found the Nelson Institute to be a place that transcends disciplinary boundaries and pays homage to the collaborative aspects of Earth Day. In fact, she became deeply involved with the Institute, serving as chair of the Water Resources Management (WRM) Program for three years and an advisor for certificate students for many more.

“The Nelson Institute has been an important anchor for undergraduate and graduate training in Environmental Studies,” said Bahr. “It’s an important unit for connecting faculty and staff with interests in environmental science and policy from across the UW-Madison campus, a home for several environmentally focused research centers, and a source of environmental outreach to the campus and the Madison community.”

In fact, community outreach was a large part of Bahr’s role with the WRM program, which prepares students to face the complexities of managing water resources through group practicums, and community-based workshops and projects.

“My most satisfying experiences have been seeing several Water Resources Management projects to completion,” said Bahr. “I was one of the leaders of the Token Creek project in 1997, which also led to some follow-up research projects by several of my hydrogeology students. Subsequent restoration work at the Culver Springs in that watershed was also informed by that workshop and our research, and I have enjoyed seeing the progress of those efforts over the last two decades.”

A hydrogeologist by training, with degrees from Yale and Stanford, Bahr has spent a majority of her career studying the processes that control mass transport in groundwater. From her early groundwater work in West Africa to her more recent experience as a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board appointed by President Barack Obama, Bahr has remained community-oriented and focused on promoting a sense of interdisciplinary collaboration.

“I am a product of the first Earth Day,” said Bahr. “Growing up in California and spending time outdoors is what got me interested in ecosystems, but as we face climate change and other pressures, it’s clear that programs such as WRM bring a lot to the table. Our graduates are snapped up by employers because our students know how to work together and they are trained in everything from the physical sciences to the social sciences.”

Bahr says that it is this breadth of training that allows student to learn the “language of other disciplines” and gain new perspectives, something she believes is key to solving the current environmental challenges.

“The Nelson Institute model allows for faculty and staff to have a primary affiliation in a disciplinary department that best matches their specific expertise, yet provides connections for them to engage with others sharing interests in interdisciplinary approaches to research and education related to environmental issues,” said Bahr. “I hope that the graduate programs will continue to attract and find support for creative students who are willing to tackle the increasingly complex and interdisciplinary challenges that are likely to come from climate change, such as threatened natural resources, and needs of a large human population on the planet.”