Waterpower: Research Partnership Brings Students to the Mississippi Using Future Workforce Technology

A rendering of the Research Vessel Prairie Springs that will equip the River Studies Center. The earliest possible delivery date for the new research vessel would be July 2023.

A partnership will allow students to get out on the Mississippi River using the water-related technology they will need in the future freshwater science workforce.

The La Crosse company JF Brennan Company Inc.. — a century-old national leader in marine environmental solutions — is partnering with UW-La Crosse to strengthen the company’s research, curriculum and talent pipeline.

“Our business, like any business, is fundamentally about the ability to recruit, train and retain good people,” said Matt Binsfeld, President and CEO of JF Brennan Company, Inc.

The partnership between UWL and JF Brennan was formed at the initiative of Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Trust and the UWL College of Science and Health, with assistance from the La Crosse Community Foundation.

In early 2022, it was announced that Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Trust had given the La Crosse Community Foundation $430,000 to fund the construction of a new research vessel for the River Studies Center at UWL: Research Vessel Prairie Springs.

For the vessel, JF Brennan will provide maintenance support, storage space and instrumentation expertise.

The partnership will also shape the program

The partnership will develop students’ experiential learning outside of the classroom, preparing them for the use of equipment and vocational training used in the workforce. UW-La Crosse graduate student Courtney Baker investigates microplastics in the Mississippi River in this 2019 photo.

JF Brennan will also enter into a new agreement with the UW-La Crosse River Center for Studies to help shape the school curriculum to continue producing top graduates. UWL students graduate with excellent technical training, such as understanding, analyzing and communicating geospatial data that applies to careers, Brennan staff say. There is still room for students to grow through experiential learning outside of the classroom.

“They saw an opportunity and said, ‘You know, would you like to have more dialogue about what we’re looking for? Because there is a huge need for these types of students,” says Roger Haro, associate dean of the UWL College of Science and Health.

The partnership is considered a public-private partnership, says Binsfeld.

“How can we work more closely with UWL and the River Studies Center to provide experiential learning opportunities for young people, so that they not only get a high-value, first-class classroom experience, but that they take advantage of that and they couple that with those opportunities to actually do what we do as an organization,” says Binsfeld.

Although UWL offers high-quality classroom experiences, one of the main science facilities on campus is severely outdated and impacting those experiences. This video shares the top 10 reasons why demolition of the Prairie Springs/Cowley Hall Science Center Completion Project is necessary.

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