UI Water Sustainability Initiative - Kajsa Dalrymple

By Mallory Hughes

            Kajsa Dalrymple is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. What makes her position unique, however, is that she was hired to be part of the UI Water Sustainability Initiative.  While completing doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dalrymple heard of a unique position in Iowa for water communication and policy. A subfield that is not yet widely recognized, she was eager to accept the position.

            “This was a unique opportunity for me to tie my interests in environmental communication to policy and political science,” she said. 

            As part of the cluster hire, she was excited about the opportunity to work with engineers, geologists, and geographers, along with urban and regional planners.  “It was an excellent opportunity for me to come and work with a team of people who are all interested in an interdisciplinary approach to understanding water sustainability and water issues facing the world,” Dalrymple said.

            Iowa has been exceptionally enjoyable for her because it is a hub for water research. She said that because of Iowa’s rivers, central location, and agriculture industry, the state is facing issues related to both water quality and quantity.

            “I believe [Iowa] has a lot of potential to make a difference,” she said. “The research that’s coming out of this university and this state is very important and has the ability and potential to make some good changes.”

            Personally, Dalrymple has been working on a content analysis on how water is being covered by media in the state of Iowa. She has noticed that not a lot of coverage is dedicated to agriculture or research.

            “We see a lot of talk about the problems, but not about the causes of those problems. So there’s a lot that we need to understand about how we discuss water, and how the public might learn about water issues facing Iowa,” Dalrymple said.

            Similarly, she is interested in what other sources the public uses to gather information about water. For example, she wants to know who is going online or how people are using social media sites to get more information about water sustainability in Iowa.

            “It’ll be very interesting to be able to give back a little bit; to share this information with Iowans in order to involve them in the discussion regarding water issues facing our state,” she said.

            Iowans do care about water, Dalrymple said, and she believes that agriculture production and environmentalism can go hand-in-hand.

            “We need to encourage better communication between land managers, the farm bureau, universities, and governmental institutions so that we can all start working together,” Dalrymple said.

            In this sense, Dalrymple hopes to turn empirical research into actionable insights.. She said that communication research, like public opinion surveys and content analyses, lends itself to be used in policy discussions. That way, legislatures and policy makers have a solid idea of what the public really wants.  Dalrymple, who teaches “Media Uses and Effects” and “Risk Communication” at the J-School, said it is a good avenue to get students involved in environmental, science, and health communication, and connect to projects like hers.

            “I have worked with a number of local organizations, watershed associations, river coalitions, and with the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities,” Dalrymple said.  She enjoys making a connection between students with communities across the state in order to get them experience with running campaigns, developing messages, and encouraging better communication between the university and the public.  “We can empower citizens to produce content, to encourage one another to adopt more environmental behaviors, and to participate in discussions about our water resources. These efforts can only help us in our pursuit of a more sustainable future,” Dalrymple said.