Posted: December 2, 2022

In her new job as watershed project coordinator in the college, Kathryn Bartling hopes to leverage the power of partnerships to create real change.

Photo: Matthew Lester

Photo: Matthew Lester

Growing up in the college town of Newark, Delaware, my parents were very active in their community. I learned from them that a healthy, thriving community requires an active, engaged citizenship.

I went to the University of Delaware for my undergraduate degree, where I studied environmental science and got to participate in a lot of research opportunities, including working on a coastal research ship and studying avian biology.

In high school and college, I volunteered for Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, where I assisted with cleaning birds that had been affected by oil spills. I also participated in research to see which soaps were best at removing the oil.

I have a master's degree in landscape architecture from Temple University. A big takeaway message for me from that was understanding how landscape change and land use change affect wildlife.

For 15 years, I worked as an environmental consultant, focusing on mercury, PCB, and heavy metal remediation. This showed me how you can understand the history of a place even through the contaminants that are there. As a practitioner, it's important to respect and honor the history of a place and the people and hard work that shaped the site, but then also carry it forward into a brighter future.

What brought me to Penn State was my desire to work in a collaborative environment, where partnerships are at the forefront of my work. I think it's the way of the future, and it's the way we're going to create better water quality and increase engagement with communities.

A lot of what I do here at the Agriculture and Environment Center (AEC) as watershed project coordinator is work with nontraditional partnership groups--such as those involving academic institutions, community members, nonprofit groups, and state and federal agencies--to effect actual on-the-ground landscape change that's tangible in the sense that you can plant a tree or seed mix and watch it grow and even watch certain wildlife come back to that area within a few growing seasons.

A big part of my job in AEC takes place in the field, working to maintain riparian buffers along streams that are near Penn State research farms, which are important for controlling erosion into streams and keeping them cool with shade. I also engage and collaborate with volunteer groups and landowners to implement these best management practices on their land. Coming from a science-driven background, I can learn a lot from these farm groups and farmers who have owned this land for so long, and we can work together to create a better future for the Chesapeake Bay.

Because it comprises faculty members, graduate students, and even interns, the AEC creates an environment where people with different skill sets and backgrounds can learn from each other. I'm really glad to be here.

Throughout my life there have been so many people who helped me get to where I am that I want to pay it forward and mentor others. Here at Penn State, I plan to get involved with career mentorship groups and encourage people from all different backgrounds to this collaborative workspace within the environmental and agricultural field. I think we have a lot to learn from each other.