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UW-Eau Claire hydrogeology student wins prestigious national scholarship

April 24, 2013
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Josh Olson

EAU CLAIRE — After high school trips to rural China and Tanzania gave him a firsthand look at water supply and contamination problems, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Josh Olson knew he wanted to work on clean water projects in developing parts of the world.

Olson, a junior geology and hydrogeology major from Amery, is the recipient of the National Ground Water Research and Educational Foundation's 2013 Past President's Award — the organization's top scholarship — to help him achieve his goal.

"I was ecstatic when I found out," Olson said of receiving the prestigious scholarship. "Being given a scholarship from the NGWREF was great on its own, but learning I had received the Past President's Award was particularly exciting news."

According to the foundation's website, the Past President's Award is given to the most qualified of the 10 students receiving scholarships from the foundation.

Dr. Kent Syverson, professor and chair of the department of geology, said Olson has the qualities needed to put him at the very top of an exclusive list of students.

"Josh is extremely intelligent, but he also has an excellent work ethic," Syverson said. "His academic record opened the door for prestigious paid hydrogeology internships with the Kansas Geological Survey and Barr Engineering, and these made him very competitive for the highest scholarship awarded by the National Ground Water Research and Educational Foundation."

Olson said the service trips he took to Asia and Africa made him realize he wanted to make a career choice that would allow him to help others.

"Water supply and contamination were serious issues in many of the areas I visited," Olson said. "I felt as though this was an issue I could help address. These experiences motivated my decision to study groundwater. My end goal has always been to go back overseas after grad school to work on clean water projects in developing countries."

Syverson said Olson is a motivated student who is following his dream, noting that Olson transferred to UW-Eau Claire from UW-Platteville after his freshman year to achieve his goal.

"He knew our geology program would prepare him to meet his goal after graduation: supplying safe drinking water for people in third world countries," Syverson said. "Thanks to his hard work, his professors and the rigorous hydrogeology program at UW-Eau Claire, Josh is well on his way to achieving that goal."

Olson said his decision about where to transfer was easy after he visited UW-Eau Claire and was given a tour of the geology department.

"The professors I met were all friendly and knowledgeable," Olson said. "I was impressed with how advanced the machines in the labs were, and the variety of field experiences offered to geology students."

Olson's NGWREF scholarship speaks to the quality of the program and professors, Syverson said.

"UW-Eau Claire's hydrogeology program has had an excellent reputation for 30 years," Syverson said. "Josh is one more student in a long line of successful Blugold hydrogeologists. Josh has worked hard and taken advantage of what UW-Eau Claire has to offer, and he deserves this award."

Olson, who plans to continue studying hydrogeology in graduate school following his December graduation, said it was an honor to represent UW-Eau Claire as the Past President's Award winner.

"The education I have received here has been excellent," Olson said. "I know the direct contact and help from professors, high quality of the labs and field work, and depth of material covered in my education was critically important for my success. In many ways, this award is a great compliment to UW-Eau Claire's geology program."

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