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Two UW Students Win EPSCoR’s ‘Communicating About Water in Wyoming’ Contest

June 6, 2016

head portraits of Patrick Harrington and Megan RichterIn Wyoming, water plays a key role in politics, community relationships, agriculture, natural resources debates and more. A University of Wyoming writing contest allows college students to weigh in on the subject and further examine the state’s valuable resource.

Two UW students -- Patrick Harrington and Megan Richter -- were recently named winners in the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest.

Harrington, a Master of Public Administration student from Greybull, won the graduate essay contest with his work, titled “Confidence in the Current,” a lyrical memoir about a life spent on Wyoming’s rivers.

Richter, a senior in mechanical engineering originally from Sheridan, took the undergraduate essay contest for her incisive and humorous look at sustainability and water quality, titled “We’ll Call It Chocolate Milk.”

The contest awarded $500 prizes to the undergraduate and graduate student winners; and provides publication, along with 15 other undergraduate and graduate entries, in an anthology of essays by UW students. The anthology will be published at the end of this month. The contest is part of the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) Communicating About Water program.

WyCEHG and the UW MFA in Creative Writing program partnered to sponsor the contest. WyCEHG is funded through an award from the National Science Foundation to Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

“I’m very thankful for the recognition this award brings and the added bonus of a $500 scholarship that will keep me plugging away at graduate school,” Harrington says. “As a songwriter in the local band the Libby Creek Original, getting recognition for the act of writing feels pretty dang great!”

“I am unbelievably grateful to have received a scholarship for my writing. I have had to juggle 20-plus-hour workloads on top of being a full-time student since I started college, and am reaching a point in my academic studies where my financial aid is rather constrained,” Richter says. “Being able to minimize my reliance on loans -- particularly in my potential last year -- is a relief for me. This lessens some burden to work and try to balance an overwhelming class load in my engineering classes.”

Harrington received his bachelor’s degree in environment and natural resources, and religious studies from UW. He is the assistant director of the Wyoming Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program housed within UW. The program sends young adults on six, 10-day-long conservation projects all over Wyoming where they construct trails, build fences, chainsaw trees, restore habitat and preserve historical structures.

Harrington describes his essay as “a story of self-discovery on the free flowing rivers of Wyoming and falling in love with this place I’d only half-heartedly called home.”  

“Fly fishing is misleading simple; the angler is only trying to convince fish that feathers are food,” Harrington explains. “But, in a broader perspective, and for me, fly fishing is something much deeper. Standing in a river connects us to the world we are a part of and forces us to be sensitive enough to reflect and respond to the moment -- whether that moment is a trout or climate change. This isn’t by accident -- for sure -- if you want to catch fish, you’ve got to be as sensitive as they are.”

Richter originally went to the University of Nevada-Reno to study journalism. She switched her major to mechanical engineering in 2012 and then returned to Wyoming to attend UW.

Richter says her essay discusses the complexity of water in Wyoming.

“Too often, we have an unbalanced perspective of water in the West as being plentiful while always somehow being in short supply,” she says. “The fact of the matter is we want to thrive in an ecosystem that was never designed for our long-term, sedentary habitation; our existence in the West always dictates the maximization of water at whatever the ecological and financial cost. It is a complicated and rather unattractive picture, but it is the reality of being in the western United States.

“Fortunately, despite all these gloom-and-doom facts, even with the United States’ population increase, our water usage is at a 40-year low, which is pretty great. But, this kind of decrease in water usage has been the result of a few things: environmental awareness by the public, regulations and also better technology. However, if we want to continue to decrease our water demand, we have to continue to be thoughtful about our water usage and the costs it enacts long-term on not only the environment, but ourselves.”

Any UW or Wyoming community college student was eligible to submit a nonfiction essay. The undergraduate category’s theme was “What I Understand About Water in Wyoming,” and essays were to be 350-600 words. The graduate category’s theme was called “How I Understand the Science of Water,” and essays were to be 600-1,000 words.

“All of our entrants submitted informative and creative work to our contest, and we at Wyoming EPSCoR are proud to have inspired UW students to communicate about water in such unique and informative ways,” says Liz Nysson, coordinator of Wyoming EPSCoR.


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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