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New faculty profile: Margaret Kalcic focuses on watershed modeling and agricultural hydrology

Margaret  Kalcic joined the UW–Madison faculty in January 2022 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. Funding for this water quality-focused position comes from the Dairy Innovation Hub, which has supported over a dozen faculty positions so far at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in western Massachusetts, in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains (part of the Appalachians) and in the Connecticut River Valley, which houses a small, diverse agricultural industry.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
After obtaining an undergraduate degree in engineering from Olin College, outside Boston, I relocated to the Midwest for graduate school at Purdue University, and began my tour of Midwest Big Ten universities. I studied ecological engineering at Purdue, housed in the agricultural and biological engineering department. Then I spent three years doing postdoctoral research at University of Michigan, then took a faculty position at Ohio State University in food, agricultural, and biological engineering. I have loved each city and school, and am now excited to be making Madison my home.

How did you get into your field of research?
My primary field of research is watershed modeling and agricultural hydrology. I mainly study movement of nutrients in landscapes, with a focus on understanding and preventing nitrogen and phosphorus export from farmland to nearby waterways. I came into this research area early in graduate school, via an interest in passive treatment of water quality through constructed wetlands. I have stayed and grown this program because the tools for predicting agricultural water quality have proved highly responsive to the needs of states and land managers, and I continue to hone these tools to make them more reliable in the regions I’ve worked.

What are the main goals of your current research program?
The overall aim of my research program is to increase the adoption of effective agricultural conservation measures to protect water quality and the environment. To increase conservation adoption requires scientific confidence in conservation effectiveness and clear, trusted avenues of communication with land managers. I aim to improve scientific understanding of the effectiveness of conservation measures through monitoring performance in the field and improving the representation of these practices and processes in computer models that are used to scale up conservation effectiveness to watersheds and regions. I encourage conservation adoption by crossing disciplines to make results meaningful and accessible to a broad audience.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?
I love being a part of Midwestern land grant universities, and particularly those located in a state capital, where research can be made readily accessible to decision makers at all levels. I also enjoy the applied focus of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and my home department, the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. I appreciate Wisconsin’s natural beauty and thriving agricultural industries, and hope to conduct research that sustains both into the future.

What was your first visit to campus like?
I first visited campus to meet a colleague when I was in town, and enjoyed a seeing the building where I now work, as well as the beautiful lakefront nearby.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope my students gain an appreciation of the complexity of managing natural resources and are motivated to consider environmental issues from multiple angles.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Yes, I do. My aim is to bring knowledge about effective conservation measures to those across the state who manage farmlands and surrounding natural resources. This applied research will educate land and water managers about how to sustain the resources upon which we depend.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy walking, gardening, music, games, reading for pleasure, and playing with my young children.