Rebecca Kauten

Visiting Assistant Professor
324 Jessup Hall
Office Hours: 
TTh 11:00am-12:30pm, or by appointment.
Curriculum Vitae: 
Research Interests: 
Surface water quality, watershed management, low-impact development, public policy and public involvement in natural resource management.

Research Overview

My most recent mixed-method approach to knowledge combines quantitative and qualitative methods regarding freshwater salinization, or the salting of urban streams from human activity. Trend analysis, nonparametric statistics and related regression analyses compliment in-depth interviews and qualitative assessment of problem framing and response to environmental concerns. Overall, I aim for transformational change in how infrastructure is managed and grow sustainable operations within public agencies. My current work includes cold-climate regions in North America and Europe, however my study abroad instruction experience includes south India. The global concern for water quality links these otherwise diametrically opposed study areas.

Quantitative methods include experience with R, SPSS, Microsoft Excel and also manual mathematical calculations as a means of estimating relationships between data sets. I have experience collecting field data for water quality projects, calibrating and collecting samples from automated equipment for direct measurements, and coordinating teams of field researchers for the same purpose.

Qualitative research includes survey and interview experience, coordinating schedules and facilitating focus group sessions to integrate responses from both industry and agencies alike. I have served as project lead for major research endeavors for state agencies which led to strategic plans and fundamental operational changes as a result of evidence-based research.

My most current research publications are in peer review with the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science and Applied Geography. Field research and secondary data analysis of long-term trend analysis indicate a mismatch between state and local measurements of soluble ions such as chloride in Iowa streams. My research documents this phenomenon, and suggests regional, agency-based approaches to address related environmental concerns. Qualitative research methods include in-depth interview sessions, key word analysis of informant responses, and comparison of operational perspectives within agencies and the Midwest region on a whole.

 Future research goals include an expansion of urban water issues to also consider social justice associated with water quality and persistent hazards to human health and development. Social justice and human geography are two areas where I see great potential for growth when considering urban watershed management and community-based water quality concerns. My aim is to add a new dimension to water resource science and strengthen the capacity for sustainable local action.

As a graduate student I had the opportunity to secure funding for my own research – a feat not typical of most PhD candidates. My professional experience garnered two major research funding contracts with government agencies. This subsequently led to research funding for study abroad experience, field work, and data analysis comprising two of the three key research questions I answered in my dissertation. In total, I secured more than $98,000.00 in external funds to support a variety of research endeavors that comprised my graduate student experience. I am currently collaborating with a team from both the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa to conduct field research to monitor hydrologic restoration efforts of a fen located in northwest Iowa. Recently I also partnered with a researcher from Drake University to incorporate GIS-based analysis for a stream sampling study underway in central Iowa. I am also continuing to collaborate with members of my dissertation committee on publications showcasing results of our research. These interdisciplinary efforts combine my GIS and human-environment interaction expertise with environmental chemists, ecologists, economists and computer scientists to form productive, multi-faceted research teams.


Teaching Philosophy

My experience ranges from a decade of work with high school and community college students to assisting graduate students on special projects. In nearly all instances, the focus remains to grow knowledge of our impact to the world around us. I emphasize spatial science skills and logic for students to solve real-world problems in the field, the lab, and ultimately, in the future. Whenever possible I apply practical knowledge of the “real world” to classroom topics in a way that both deconstructs complex ideas and relates to valuable career skills students can anticipate putting to use after graduation. My quantitative activities encourage inquiry and investigation in an approachable manner.

I encourage curiosity and creativity steeped in evidence from data, inquiry and most importantly from communicating with one another. I have led several study abroad experiences, taking dozens of undergraduate and graduate students to south India where communities face complex environmental issues. In such regions not only are simple, creative solutions necessary, but a matter of survival. Involving the local community is the only path to success. Such encounters reinforce my own appreciation for the common traits of humanity, and the growing need to care about our world, but care for it as well. The results of my work are consistently reflected in my teaching evaluations, as demonstrated below:

  • Knows what she’s talking about and has great methods of bringing up discussion.
  • Rebecca is clearly strong, confident, and capable of teaching and cultivating educational enrichment. She has a strong understanding of the material and speaks in a matter which confusion is left at the door. She is also very nice and responds to out-of-class emails quickly and with compassion.
  • Was very helpful with giving us  the examples and tools to help  better our knowledge from lectures. Was also very good about making sure we had feedback from our class in our discussions and not just spewing facts and knowledge at us.

Since 2015, I have taught several spatial and environmental science courses both online and live. Students enrolled have included adult learners, first-generation and First Nation students from across North America. Course content includes a mix of research, writing, data analysis, and applied science using real-world data. Methods include a flipped classroom experience for on-campus learners, and multimedia resources for online lab activities with cloud-based applications. I developed a general education spatial science course for Montana State University at Billings (MSU-B) which combines spatial science, inquiry and investigation for a general education undergraduate course. This opportunity allowed me experience developing module-based curriculum, corresponding lab assignments, recorded lectures and guidance for student-led research projects.

In my academic endeavors, I consider individual students team members of equal standing – regardless of whether s/he is a graduate student, undergraduate, citizen scientist, tribal elder or local technical expert. Each plays a vital role in the work we do. I believe in individual approaches to opportunity through a collective lens. Everyone’s encounters define who we are, and who we become as a community. This ranges from the experience of heading to class in a vast, overwhelming lecture hall, or stepping off a plane into a city where everyone speaks a multitude of languages except for your own. Anxieties exist, as well as challenges and opportunities for amazing, memorable experiences.

My pedagogical approach acknowledges students do not all learn equally. While top honor students may quickly grasp concepts or skills, some may need reinforcement when tackling complex concepts. All are welcome in my classroom. Whenever possible, I incorporate activities where students talk to one another – and listen. While we often shine brightest in the opportunity to share our own ideas, I turn the tables somewhat in a role-playing activity when discussing environmental challenges. In order to practice listening skills, I ask students to share the ideas of another – in one’s own words. This requires each student to not only engage in a conversation with another person; one must also pay close enough attention to what is being discussed in order to successfully report back to the class what was learned – not just listen to respond. Sustaining our planet requires connections to the people around us. I consider bringing students together in this way a critical role for teachers, perhaps now more than ever.