Water-conscious efforts in North Texas gained two new advocates and educators as the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service adds water specialists in Dallas.
Kelly Albus, Ph.D., and Dean Minchillo joined AgriLife Extension’s Urban Water Team at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Dallas, as program specialists who will promote and explore ways to educate communities and individuals to improve water quality, use efficiency and protect natural resources.
Albus is an environmental scientist and educator who is passionate about encouraging people to explore the outdoors and building authentic connections with their environment. She has taught at universities, museums, wildlife centers and schools across the state and plans to bring her experience with engaging diverse learners in scientific investigation and helping citizen scientists co-create learning opportunities for their own communities to AgriLife Extension.
Working for AgriLife Extension as an undergraduate student inspired Albus to join the agency one day.
“I’ve always wanted to join AgriLife Extension because of their interconnectedness to communities around the state and their ability to engage and involve a diverse range of residents with science,” she said. “Connecting with people and building interest in science that can improve their lives and their communities is my passion, and this is the perfect place to do that.”
Albus said she hopes to utilize her experience and teaching background to broaden engagement in the Citizen Science program and involve residents in research that addresses local issues.
“We want new and diverse stakeholder groups and to start conversations with people who haven’t traditionally been involved,” she said. “A lot of what happens in science can be disconnected from what is going on locally, so we want to connect residents with the process in a participatory and management capacity.”
Albus plans to engage pre-school to college students with a focus on intergenerational transfer. Studies show that parents receive and accept science-based information from their children more than from other adults. By engaging families in research, Albus hopes to connect communities and provide sound guidance that improves their relationship with natural resources in their region.
Virtual learning and increased access will allow residents to participate in science and learning whenever, wherever, Albus said. Making connections between community groups, local libraries, schools, colleges and universities will make water quality and conservation a community-minded and community-driven journey and destination.
“We will build off the amazing resources and presence AgriLife Extension has in communities and make improving local water quality and conservation a community effort,” she said. “People want to improve their communities, and we want to encourage and support them.”
Albus earned a bachelor’s degree in natural history and humanities from Texas Tech University, a master’s degree and teaching certification from Tarleton State University, and her doctorate in environmental science from the University of North Texas, UNT. She currently holds a research appointment at UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute, a fellowship with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
Minchillo, a water conservation professional for nearly two decades, has spearheaded conservation efforts in Texas while working for some of the most active and influential water agencies and providers in the state. He has seen water conservation efforts rise from mere suggestions to mandated requirements based on quantifiable methods for improving water conservation and efficiency.
In joining AgriLife Extension, Minchillo said his goal is to design programs that educate Texans about water conservation, including everyday water-use efficiencies, water harvesting and programs that help developers, and municipalities design and execute water-conscious plans and policy, respectively.
“The big picture is addressing urban water, population growth and water demand, and providing AgriLife Extension agents the programming that best serves the region, the community, the neighborhood and the individual,” he said.
The programming Minchillo wants to provide runs the water-use spectrum — from general water-conscious lawncare and maintenance to protecting nonpoint pollution runoff to slowing and storing stormwater through concepts like raingardens, swales and bioretention areas that help reduce pollutants from entering waterways and create wildlife habitat.
Minchillo said he was excited to join AgriLife Extension because of its reputation as the best, most trusted frontline provider of research-based knowledge and information for Texans.
Water is a critical aspect to regional growth that will continue to be an evolving challenge for communities, he said. Providing the right tools and knowledge will effect changes in behaviors and planning that help utilize and protect natural resources in increasingly proactive ways.
“People are open to these concepts now more than ever,” he said. “They see how conservation can reduce wastefulness and benefit them and their immediate environment. I’m excited about providing information people can use to protect a precious natural resource.”
Minchillo has led, assisted and supported several water conservation campaigns including Water IQ, Know Your Water, The Lawn Whisperer — for which he received an American Advertising Federation award for his work on the Lawn Whisperers “Sprinkler Talk” ad — and the most recent campaign called Water is Awesome. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Texas State University.