Blog Post

Meet the Board: Kris Stepenuck

The Citizen Science Association is a new and rapidly growing organization with many new names and faces. Some of those faces are volunteering their time to lead this organization as Board Members. We’re going to post a series of blogs over the coming months called “Meet the Board”, where you can learn more about the great people guiding the organization.
In this blog, you’ll meet Kris Stepenuck. Kris spent 14 years coordinating a volunteer stream monitoring program, Water Action Volunteers, for the State of Wisconsin. Recently, she began working with the University of Vermont Lake Champlain Sea Grant program. Her research has included assessing impacts of land use on water quality, comparing water monitoring methods, assessing outcomes of volunteer water monitoring programs, and assessing attitude and behavior changes that may result from water-related community outreach programming.
CSA: Kris, tell us how you first got involved in citizen science.
Kris: I first became involved in citizen science when I was in high school. My Dad coordinated the local volunteer river monitoring program with a colleague of his. In addition to having our own monitoring site near home, my Dad, my brother and I would often be the back-up monitors for other people. We also helped out my Dad and his colleague in the lab. That monitoring effort was to assess levels of E. coli bacteria along the length of a river, so we’d help set up plates to be incubated, count bacteria colonies and prepare equipment for people to pick up to do their sampling. When I went to college, I wanted to major in water resources as I felt I had contributed to local knowledge about a water quality issue in my area, and I wanted to be able to help improve conditions in other water bodies.
CSA: The interest in citizen science seems to be growing. Why do you think that is?
Kris: That’s a great question. I think it’s a perfect storm of opportunity at this point in time. First, we are fortunate that many people have the time, freedom, and opportunity to be able to focus on more than meeting their basic needs. Plus, with many natural resource crises, people are becoming more and more aware that we need to respect our natural resources if we want to protect them for the future (in the case of citizen science projects focused on the environment). In order to protect them, we must first understand what we have (which provides a doorway for many to become involved in citizen science projects). From past citizen science successes, people realize that they can (or program managers realize that lay persons can) contribute effectively to help build data sets. At the same time, we are also living in a world in which there have been huge technological advances that enable us to collect data more prolifically than ever before, and to share data we have collected more easily than ever. But, scientists are finding that there are limitations in the ability of computers to generate and analyze huge data sets; thus, lay people are being recruited to assist in both data collection and data analysis. I think that there is great support for the notion of citizen science within major research funding agencies at this time, and forever shrinking government budgets to carry out natural resource monitoring, both of which drive citizen participation in the research/monitoring process (one by encouraging it with available funding and the other due to a need for help by public agencies).
CSA: You are part of the inaugural board for the Citizen Science Association. That comes with a lot of responsibility. What’s it like to be a board member for the Citizen Science Association?
Kris: It’s a privilege as well as – as you said – a lot of responsibility. We have some core tasks we need to take care of to set the Association on strong footing so it can be successful today and long into the future. We’re learning as we go, trying to work effectively as a team and to keep our members engaged and informed.
CSA: What do you wish other people knew about the Citizen Science Association?
Kris: I hope that people will recognize that every member is important to the Association. If anyone has an idea of what the Association needs to be better or to address a need they know exists, they can bring that up and help the Association take action to address it.
CSA: What do you think will change about Association over the next few years?
The Association will develop in ways I cannot predict, I am sure, but one idea I have is that there will be many subsets of it that blossom to bring knowledge and resources to the overall group. We talked on a recent working group call about communities of practice forming within the organization. We discussed that those might include regional chapters of the CSA or they might be various communities that are distinguished by subject matter of focus in certain types of citizen science projects.
CSA: What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a member of the Citizen Science Association?
Kris: I would tell them about the breadth of focus the Association represents, and the opportunities being a member provides to initiate collaborations with colleagues near and far on just about any topic of interest to them. I would also encourage them to become actively involved in the Association, as it is easy to join an association and not get much of out of it by not putting much into it. At first, when they are new to citizen science their active contributions might be mostly on the learning side, attending Association sponsored workshops, webinars, or discussions, but eventually they will be able to formulate and answer their own research or management questions, and not too far in the future they will be the one providing workshops to others.
CSA: Tell us something interesting about yourself. What might members be interested to know about you?
Kris: My bucket list includes wanting to develop an app, take an around the world trip, and to one day be fluent in both Dutch and French.
CSA: That’s a great bucket list! Thanks for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself with our members.
Want to learn more about Kris? Follow her on Twitter @kstepenu

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