New program partners MSU student with mayor to help solve city's challenges
In a new partnership between Montana State University and the city of Bozeman, an MSU graduate student will gain leadership experience while helping the city explore options for conserving water.
Heather Nold, a master's student in MSU's Department of Civil Engineering, is participating in the Mentored by the Mayor program, which MSU's Leadership Institute and the city jointly launched this fall.
During her year in the program, Nold will meet regularly with Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus to learn about the roles and responsibilities of public service at the municipal level. As part of the experience, students are asked to identify a challenge that faces the community and offer solutions. Nold has proposed strategies for managing Bozeman's water supply, a topic of interest for both her and Andrus.
“It adds depth to my experience while I’m developing technical skills at MSU and gives me an outlet to help create solutions at a local scale,” said Nold, who introduced herself to Bozeman's city commission on Oct. 22.
Andrus said she envisioned the program about a year ago as a way to bring new energy to solving the challenges that the city faces while strengthening the city's relationship with MSU and giving students a taste of leadership in municipal government.
"It's about learning what it takes to turn an idea into policy,” said Andrus, who was elected mayor in 2015.
Nold, whose graduate research in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering focuses on water resources, said the details of her project are still taking shape. She is interested in studying how small-scale structures similar to beaver dams could buffer runoff and hold water longer in the small streams that feed Bozeman's water supply, she said. She is also looking into ways that the city could reuse grey water, which is water from sinks and showers that could be partially treated and used for irrigation.
"Heather has some really interesting ideas," Andrus said.
“Water is a very important issue both for Bozeman and other communities around the West,” Andrus said, adding that the upper Missouri River watershed is a "closed basin," meaning that all water rights are claimed. That makes water conservation an important consideration as Bozeman grows, she said.
Andrus worked with Carmen McSpadden, director of the MSU Leadership Institute, to launch a pilot version of the program last year. Amber Roberts, who graduated from MSU last spring with a bachelor's in agriculture business, conducted a study of the city's roughly 40 citizen advisory boards and recommended ways that the boards might be re-structured to most efficiently carry out the city's strategic plan. As a student associate at the Leadership Institute, Roberts helped shape the volunteer program, which is similar to an unpaid internship with a time commitment of a few hours per week.
“This collaboration connects us with the resource we have at MSU — young minds that can help solve complex problems in the community,” Andrus said.
McSpadden said the program is well aligned with the MSU Leadership Institute's mission of inspiring MSU students to become leaders who serve as catalysts for positive change. Both she and Andrus said they plan to continue the program into the future.
"This program encourages MSU students to envision and help create a brighter future for Bozeman," McSpadden said. "For us, that's a definition of leadership."