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Spotlight on University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Extension Agent: Jane L. Harrison, Ph.D

University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Environmental Social Scientist

Jane is Wisconsin Sea Grant’s first social scientist, reflecting a new emphasis by Sea Grant to factor humans into its research program. She joined the Advisory Services team in October of 2012. Harrison received a Ph.D. from Oregon State University for her work on communities in the Pacific Northwest that have been forced to adapt over time to globalization and changes in supply and demand for the forest products upon which their economies have traditionally been based.

You worked on the Impact Based Warning Assessment, what is your impression of Impact Based Warning?

They move the National Weather Service forward by linking their products to stakeholders’ needs. The guy who decides to shut down production at a factory or close a school (emergency managers), as well as the local tv weather woman (broadcast meteorologists) prefer weather information that makes it clear what the impacts are to the public.

What is something cool you learned while working on the Impact Based Warning Assessment?

I learned how many self-ascribed weather dorks are out there. Weather has never been a passion or interest of mine, but I now realize how important precise weather information is to people. I’m one of those people who just goes outside and hopes for the best without a care for the weather forecast. Many people, however, rely on NWS forecasts to make business decisions, recreation decisions, and generally plan their days.

Why do you think it is important to have social scientists at Sea Grant?

All natural resource and environmental issues have a human dimension. Social scientists study people’s perceptions and behaviors, the social and political institutions, and the economic systems that interact with and affect our coastal communities and water bodies. We need to integrate natural and human systems to understand how our communities and water resources are changing over time and how to manage them sustainably.

What drove you to be a social scientist?

I have long been interested in public policy and economic development. I studied International Studies in college with a focus on world business and globalization. I took a few environmental and development economics courses and decided to get my master’s and Ph.D. in that field. I became fascinated by the intersection of natural resource policy and economic development. My graduate research was focused on the evolution of the timber industry and its impact on forest communities, as well as how those communities are reshaping their identities with the decline of the industry.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

My best friend from college sent me the job posting out of the blue. I had not considered working for Sea Grant because my background was in forestry, not water. However, I found transitioning between forestry issues to water and coastal issues pretty smooth, especially considering all the amazingly intelligent people I work with and learn from each day.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

I love meeting new people and working with them to solve problems. Every day is different.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

Sticking to one project at a time.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I still rarely think of myself as a scientist. Instead, I have a passion for natural resource and community development problem-solving, which involves scientific research, excellent communication skills, and constant learning on the job. I evolved into a social scientist more than actively pursuing that career path.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I didn’t realize how much continued experiential education I undertake re: Great Lakes. I feel like I have a master’s degree in the Great Lakes. I am always learning new things from topics like green infrastructure to coastal erosion.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

And how about a personal favorite book?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Do you have an outside hobby?

Rock climbing

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

How kind, smart, and supportive my work colleagues are – I couldn’t ask for better people to work with.



Read about the other social scientists who completed the study:

Catie McCoy, Environmental Social Scientist at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Kathy Bunting-Howarth, J.D. Ph.D., Associate Director of New York Sea Grant

Katie Williams, graduate student funded by University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

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