Rutgers professor named to Endowed Chair for Water Resources and Watershed Ecology
Across from Avenue E on Livingston campus is the Rutgers Ecological Preserve, a wildlife classroom used by some professors to let students get dirty while they learn. It is a part of the Raritan River watershed in New Brunswick and Piscataway.
The Endowed Johnson Family Chair for Water Resources and Watershed Ecology is a newly endowed chair position created to help restore the Raritan River watershed and further help students learn about environmental issues, said Robert Goodman, executive dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Richard Lathrop, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources and director of the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing & Spatial Analysis, will become the first faculty member to hold this position.
“He’s the perfect choice,” he said. “If he had not been at Rutgers, we would have gone out and recruited him.”
Lathrop said he wanted to raise awareness of environmental problems facing America as well as clean up the Raritan River.
While the river is still not perfectly clean, it is much better than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, he said.
“There’s been a long, slow climb in terms of the river increasing its health,” he said. “It’s much better than it was 50 years ago, but there’s still a lot to go.”
He will be working with the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, he said. The program is a joint venture with the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Edward J. Bloustein School for Planning and Public Policy.
Part of the collaboration will revolve around combining the scientific and technical strengths of the Rutgers community with government and environmental agencies to ensure that not only will the river cleanup proceed, but that members of the public will know more about how to keep it clean after.
Part of this will come from increasing the number of hands-on classes working with the river, he said.
Some classes in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences already use the river as part of the classroom, Goodman said. With Lathrop’s help, the amount of activity will increase over the next few years.
“We’re trying to bring the University down to the river and so … provide greater opportunities for Rutgers students, Rutgers faculty and the Rutgers community to learn from the river and also be able to enjoy the river,” Lathrop said.
The Raritan is safe enough to work in, and while there are still pollutants from previous decades of landfill and industrial waste, Lathrop said there would be no problem with exposing students to the water.
“You wouldn’t want to eat fish from the Raritan in most cases, so we still have room to improve, but it’s much better than it was,” he said.
Lathrop’s credentials come from his 27 years working at Rutgers and the fact that he is an outdoorsman who grew up in the Raritan watershed. His goals are to make a connection between the river, the preserve and University students, so rather than “abstract book learning,” students can understand the importance of the environment.
“It’s somewhat daunting, but I’m gonna relish the challenge, and I think it will bring together some of the things that I’ve been working towards in my career here at Rutgers,” he said. “I think people will only really appreciate that (the river is) something that they have.”