Q&A: Recent alumna making impact on clean water in Pennsylvania

Sarah Xenophon is a watershed technician in the Agriculture and Environment Center in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. She creates large-scale watershed assessments and meets with farmers, land owners, municipalities and others to restore polluted or otherwise “sick” bodies of water in Pennsylvania. The center works with key stakeholders to proactively build partnerships to improve the health of Pennsylvania’s waterways, and by extension, the pollution problem in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Learn more about efforts to save the Chesapeake.

Q: What do you do in your role, and how did your education at Penn State prepare you to take on this important work?

A: I create large-scale watershed assessments and then bring homeowners, farmers and municipalities to the table. We all work together to clean up waterways in a manner that benefits everyone.

My education at Penn State has done a tremendous amount in preparing me for this job. I absolutely would not be in this position if I had not gone to Penn State. As a student I did work with the Agriculture and Environment Center as an intern, and that work was a gateway to environmental professionalism. From there, I transitioned into a temporary position during the summer and now I have a full time position with the center. All of those steps, beginning with my education at Penn State, led to my career as a professional scientist today.

Q: What motivates you to do your work?

A: I believe that every human being has a right to clean water. In my job, I try to bring together diverse groups of Pennsylvanians to tackle challenges related to restoring and preserving our waterways. This work impacts all Pennsylvanians; these are large scale challenges and everyone needs to be at the table.

Q: How does Penn State positively impact the health of Pennsylvania waterways?

A: Fixing water quality is a massive global problem that no one person or institution can solve. However, Penn State, as a leader in research globally, can make huge strides in fixing these problems statewide and beyond. The Agriculture and Environment Center helps to forge partnerships among critical difference makers; without Penn State, these partnerships wouldn’t exist. Every day at Penn State I am improving water quality, even if I spend the day at my desk pouring through data and conducting research. It’s important and it’s an area where Penn State is making an impact.

Q: Has there been a particular moment on the job that you come back to as an example of your potential for positive impact? A moment or story that keeps you motivated?

A: The first time I see a stream that’s been totally restored, that’s a moment when I get to say to myself, “this is why I do this work.” You get out there and see brook trout in the stream, and fishermen, farmers and homeowners are there. They’re happy, I’m happy, the local municipality is happy, and it’s a win-win-win. Clean water is important to everyone.

 

Last Updated April 26, 2018