Only a semester into college, Megan Otten’s talent in geoscience became strikingly obvious.  

“She was nearly perfect in all of her exams and quizzes,” Geoscience Associate Professor Dylan Blumentritt said. “A student doesn’t typically earn the scores she was earning unless they are unusually talented, work hard, and are extremely interested in the subject.”  

Otten, a 2021 spring graduate, is graduating next week a year early with a degree in Geoscience along with a number of experiences that have skyrocketed her career prospects forward. Otten said she accredits the professors in the geoscience department that made her realize her potential early on in her college career. 

As a freshman, Otten came to WSU undecided and took a geoscience class to fulfill a freshman requirement. The class sparked an interest and after speaking with the professor, she knew for a fact that geoscience was the degree she wanted to pursue. 

Beyond the outstanding test scores and content she was learning, an opportunity was presented to her in her sophomore year that allowed her to shine in a different but more impactful way.

Blumentritt presented to her a paid project the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency asked the department to do that would allow them to improve water quality in the future by helping mitigate farm runoff.

“There is no doubt in my mind that she will go on to do great things in her career. Her work ethic, intelligence, and shining personality will make her a valued asset… to any research team.”
Dylan Blumentritt

Geoscience Associate Professor, WSU

Otten’s involvement was to use light detection and ranging — called LIDAR data — to map the topography of the Root River watershed, specifically to find pond dams and other sediment control structures near farmland. Pinpointing where ponds have been built and how much capacity they have versus the amount of runoff will allow the MPCA to understand what’s already in existence so they can figure out where best to place new ones to mitigate runoff ending up in streams and impacting water quality. Otten mapped the entire region from La Crosse to close to Rochester to all the way down to Iowa.  

“It’s rare that you get a student who can excel at doing something so technical and come up with quality results, without very much oversight,” Blumentritt said. “It is because of her heightened integrity and character that I can trust her work and that she will meet deadlines, which is very important when working on funded projects.” 

“The mapping that Megan did is going to be instrumental in our work to restore some of the water in the Root River Watershed. We can see where in the watershed there aren’t as much practices in place in order to determine where to focus efforts on. Local partners, like the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, are so excited to have that information. Not every watershed has this.”

Emily Zanon

Watershed Project Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Otten credits Blumentritt for helping her along the way and being a guiding source to her success throughout the project. Otten said working on the research project was rewarding and showed her a glimpse of the path she wants to continue down after graduation. 

The next leap forward for her career came when she was presenting her MPCA research findings during the One Watershed One Plan conference in which seven counties, who each had their own watershed plan, were being brought together to find a plan that fit for all the counties.

The Saint Mary’s University’s GeoSpatial Services  was also presenting at that same conference and was impressed with Otten’s work. She was offered an internship opportunity after graduation at GeoSpatial Services where she will work over the summer and transition into a full-time position. Otten will also be working towards a master’s degree in Spatial Data Analysis and Geographic Information Science through St. Mary’s University.  

Although Otten isn’t positive what other opportunities will unfold in her career in the future, she has an inkling that it might someday include teaching. Megan worked as a Teaching Assistant in geoscience classes for underclassmen where she enjoyed helping students and encouraging them to pursue their interests. Since then teaching has been in the back of her mind as a possibility for her future. 

Until then she’s excited to put all the things she’s learned into action and use her degree to continue researching, gathering information and to keep learning. She hopes to continue making discoveries and connections relating to pollution where she can then help discontinue the negative effects of pollution. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that she will go on to do great things in her career,” Blumentritt said.  “Her work ethic, intelligence, and shining personality will make her a valued asset…to any research team.”