Scientist Profile: Jenny Newland

Jenny Newland, executive director of Canaan Valley Institute, uses science everyday to focus on improving water quality in rural areas of the Central Appalachians. She works with different groups and people from all over her region to find sites and develop plans for stream restoration projects. She also uses math and business skills daily to develop budgets that estimate how much projects will cost to complete so that communities can raise funds to protect their water resources.

Jenny and her coworkers at Canaan Valley Institute work exclusively in rural areas of the Central Appalachian Mountains. These communities are part of one of the most beautiful forested regions in the whole world, but many residents in these communities struggle with basic necessities. Many residents  live near waterways and acknowledge the value of their water resources. But living in close proximity to the rivers and streams has disadvantages as well.  Residents’ homes can be vulnerable to flooding and residents can also be exposed to health risks from pollution in the nearby streams. Unfortunately, these risks most often impact the poorest residents, those without public sewer systems, closest to the streams. For Jenny, this is not just an environmental issue but, a critical social justice issue that she is working to solve. By bringing affordable stream restoration and sewage treatment options to rural areas she is able to protect both the residents of her community and the environment.

One of the best parts of Jenny’s job is visiting communities and streams all over the Appalachian Mountains to learn about how people interact with local waterways. She loves using science to solve problems that directly affect peoples’ lives. She also loves spending time with students studying the local streams and helping them to see how science can impact peoples’ daily lives.

Jenny, her coworkers, and her students use geology, biology, geography, chemistry, physics, and even math, to evaluate what is causing water quality problems. Through science she is able to provide students with a pathway to address challenges and help their community thrive place.

Jenny’s love for science began when she was young, playing outside in the fields, forests, and swamps, looking at plants, and searching for bugs, frogs, salamanders, and fox tracks. In high school Jenny had great science teachers who taught her how to ask good questions and use science to answer them. She continued her science studies in college, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Earth Science and Biology from Stanford University and a Master’s degree in Forestry from University of Montana. Today, Jenny loves using science in her job “because it explains the beauty in our everyday lives.” She is able to use science to understand the challenges that communities face and explain how all of our actions are connected.

Everyone can find something interesting in the natural world, and Jenny has some fun advice on how to start, “Spend time outside! Get your feet wet and hands dirty while you’re looking at all of the parts and pieces of the natural world that surrounds us. You’ll find amazingly beautiful, strange, and interesting things no matter where you are or where you look!”