From her stunning scuba-diving photos to the plaintive loon cry of her cell phone ringtone, Catherine Riseng has always brought nature into the Michigan Sea Grant office. Now that Catherine is heading into the adventure of retirement, Michigan Sea Grant’s other staff members will have to find new ways to bring the outside in.
Catherine Riseng served as Michigan Sea Grant’s research program manager since 2013. In this role, she spearheaded Michigan Sea Grant’s biannual research funding cycle, developed externally funded projects, supervised research program staff, and maintained connections with a broad network of partners around Michigan and the Great Lakes region. She also oversaw the creation of Michigan Sea Grant’s highly successful undergraduate internship program in 2019.
Research and leadership
While Michigan Sea Grant has offices and staff around the state, the research program is primarily housed in Ann Arbor, where Catherine has deep roots. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, studying botany and aquatic ecology. Prior to joining Michigan Sea Grant, she worked as a U-M researcher on projects related to stream ecology and fisheries biology. She also served as an aquatic ecologist for several consulting and landscape architecture firms in and around Ann Arbor.
Catherine came to Michigan Sea Grant with a strong network of connections to the environmental stewardship and research communities in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Great Lakes region more broadly. “Catherine had a great background in dealing with the public and a track record of collaborative research,” says Jim Diana, who directed Michigan Sea Grant when Catherine came on board. “Those strengths are part of what our office is all about: understanding natural systems and our influence on them.”
While working at Michigan Sea Grant, Catherine continued a half-time appointment as an associate research scientist at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. Her work focused on the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework, a collaboratively developed system for cataloging qualities and similarities among habitat zones around the Great Lakes basin.
When Jim Diana retired in 2018 and the search for a new director began, Catherine stepped up to keep the program on track. She served as interim director until Tom Johengen became director in fall 2019. She continued guiding the program as Michigan Sea Grant’s assistant director along with her other duties until she retired in September 2021.
“I was fortunate to follow the strong foundation laid by Catherine and the other proceeding directors,” reflects Tom. “Catherine’s wealth of experience and wisdom provided immeasurable support to me and to our program at large. But most of all, I valued and benefitted from her friendship. I cannot think of a more generous, kind, and supportive colleague that I have had the pleasure to work with.”
Since joining Michigan Sea Grant, Catherine has propelled the program’s research efforts forward. Under her tenure, the research program has supported projects that tackle thorny issues from salmon and trout stocking in Lake Michigan, to harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, and the imminent threat of invasive carp in the Great Lakes basin. Research funds have also supported innovative social science investigators, such as a graduate student fellow who helped female anglers tell their own stories through photographs and testimonies.
Boosting the next generation
Perhaps Catherine’s proudest contribution has been the launch of Michigan Sea Grant’s undergraduate internship program. Starting in 2019, Michigan Sea Grant has funded crops of summer interns working on Great Lakes research and stewardship projects around the state. Interns have planted trees in urban watersheds, studied the effects of invasive species on wetland health, created educational materials for nature centers, cared for community gardens, built remote-operated vehicles for studying lake sturgeon, and more.
The internship program particularly seeks to fund students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the sciences and who study at smaller institutions, like Lake Superior State University and University of Detroit Mercy.
These internships can help crystallize or shift the trajectory of an undergraduate student’s career. 2021 intern Rachel London worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to investigate potential causes of skin lesions reported in smallmouth bass.
“I’ve always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian,” reflected Rachel in her presentation at the virtual internship symposium on August 18, where she and the 12 other interns delivered brief talks about their summer projects. “However, I always imagined myself working with cute, fluffy puppies and kittens. Since this internship, I’ve completely changed my vision for myself. I want to be in the field, working with fish and wildlife, studying animal health alongside respected, knowledgeable individuals who strive to do their best for the benefit of animals. Essentially, I never want the experiences I’ve had over the course of this internship to end.”
What comes next?
Catherine helped train her successor, Michael Fraker, who joined the staff in August 2021. Mike has been able to hit the ground running, saying, “I hope to continue Catherine’s efforts to increase the diversity of the scientists and the value of the research that Michigan Sea Grant supports.” Mike previously served as a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research in Ann Arbor; learn more about him.
Catherine marked her retirement with a party at Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park on September 10. Retirement will open new doors for Catherine to explore her passion for outdoor adventures, including camping, hiking, gardening, and scuba-diving with her husband Earl. The pair’s retirement travel plans may be somewhat interrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but fresh adventures await them soon.
“Somewhat remarkably, I first met Catherine as a doctoral student at UM and I have had the pleasure of interacting with her in various Great Lakes research capacities throughout my entire three-decade-long career,” says Tom Johengen. “I want to add my gratitude, my congratulations, and my best wishes for a well-deserved, joy-filled retirement.”