Don Friend

MSU professor Don Friend will work with issues surrounding water supply is his yearlong sabbatical as a Jefferson Science Fellow.

The goal has always been simple for Don Friend. Make an impact, wherever, however and whenever possible.

He already has achieved that goal as a geography professor at Minnesota State University for the last 22 years, where his teaching and research have impacted thousands of people.

However, his impact is going to become a whole lot greater on Aug. 19.

Friend has been selected as a Jefferson Science Fellow to work on issues surrounding water supply over a yearlong sabbatical based in Washington, D.C.

The Jefferson Science Fellowship program is funded by a partnership between the U.S. academic community, professional scientific societies, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program is open to tenured faculty from U.S. institutions of higher learning.

“I’m truly humbled by this,” Friend said. “It’s not often a scientist actually gets to work where the rubber meets the road.”

Becoming a Jefferson Science Fellow is no easy task. The process started with an application but ended up taking over six months. It included a trip to Washington, where Friend was interviewed 11 times during a four-day period.

At the end of the process, it became clear Friend would be best suited to do something that connects his knowledge of geography with water. Even though he will be based in Washington, much of Friend’s work will be abroad. He will spend time working at various USAID missions around the world.

“This isn’t just a desk job,” Friend said. “You actually get to go out into the field and make sure things get done.”

Friend’s main job in the program will be to develop five-year plans that address water supply issues in a changing climate. While he doesn’t know exactly where he will be sent, Friend has a feeling it will be places with tricky geography — specifically areas with mountains. Friend has extensive knowledge of mountainous regions and has written a book on them.

Flooding is a major problem that plagues the regions Friend expects to work in. He will be creating plans to deal with the excess water in these places.

“We don’t think about flooding to often in Minnesota because we usually get the right amount of water all year,” Friend said. “It’s not like that in a lot of other places.”

The physical geography is certainly going to be a big part of Friend’s job, but it may not be the most important part. He stressed that geography is the relationship between people and environment. With that said, it’s no surprise Friend will be looking at human issues such as amenity migration in these regions as well.

While Friend is excited about the impact his work away from home will have, he knows it will help him be a better professor when he returns home. Friend stressed the importance of sabbaticals for professors as opportunities to learn new information.

“I’m going to be able to come back to Mankato and share all this,” he said. “That’s why I’m a professor.”