A Q&A With Interim Dean Dr. Clint Willson

June 30, 2023

Dr. Clint Willson

Dr. Clint Willson

BATON ROUGE -- When Clint Willson stepped into the position of CC&E Interim Dean on July 1st, he brought with him long experience as a leader on coastal and environmental issues in Louisiana, stemming from both his research, and his work with organizations like the Center for River Studies, where he serves as director.

We talked to him a little bit about his background, his research in Louisiana, and his vision for CC&E.

You have an academic background that includes aerospace engineering, environmental health engineering and civil engineering. Also, you are very well known for your work in modeling flow and sediment transport in the Mississippi River Delta and for your collaboration with internal and external partners. Can you talk about the correlation between your background and interests and the LSU College of the Coast & Environment?

After six years as a Marine Corps officer, I decided to pursue my MS degree after thinking about the connection between fluid mechanics and my original undergraduate major, Biochemistry. I was driven to find a program that allowed me to take courses and perform research in what is now referred to as environmental fluid mechanics – the study of natural fluid systems and, more particularly, how they transport and disperse material, such as sediment and chemicals. I was very fortunate that my coursework, from many different departments, provided me the opportunity to study both groundwater hydraulics and surface water hydrology and hydrodynamics. As one of my graduate school mentors told me on day one, “If you don’t know where the water is going, it doesn’t matter how much chemistry or biology you add to the equations!”

I was able to use this background to collaborate with a number of engineers and scientists on research projects aimed at improving our understanding of environmental fate-and-transport, as well as contaminated site assessment and remediation. The fundamentals I learned in graduate school and during my postdoctoral research made it relatively easy to transition to studying the Mississippi River hydrodynamics and sediment transport here at LSU.  As I get to know CC&E, I can see how my research, teaching and outreach efforts complement so much of the incredible work being done here by faculty, staff and students. 

A lot of your work centers around rivers. What do you want students to learn about the role of rivers in Louisiana’s changing coastline and environments?

Rivers have played such a crucial part in the history of civilization and, of course, so much of our state’s coast, economy and culture. Helping students understand the balance between using the river to restore and maintain our coast, while continuing to grow our economy is vital to the state’s future.

You have been a leader of LSU coastal and environmental efforts for more than 20 years. Could you share one of the lessons that you have learned and explain how this lesson will help shape your vision for our college?

Solid and defendable science is crucial for ensuring that policy makers and the public understand what plans and projects are necessary for ensuring a vibrant coastal ecosystem and economy. I would also add that is imperative that we work with experts in engagement, outreach and communication early on in any project to effectively learn from, engage and educate our citizens and public officials.

Also in your work on coastal and environmental issues here at LSU, you have routinely collaborated with people at our college. What stands out to you about CC&E over the years? 

The long history of groundbreaking science and discovery that is evident in our state’s coastal master plan, much of the coastal and wetland science being employed around the nation and world, and the amazing impact that our graduates are having in research, industry and government roles.

Obviously, CC&E is heavily involved with the coast, which is one of President William Tate’s priorities. But there are four other priorities as well—how do you see our college’s research integrating into agriculture, biotechnology, defense, and energy?

Louisiana’s coast and environment have a direct, interdependent relationship with our economy, culture, lives, and livelihoods. For example, environmental conditions directly affect agriculture, health and well-being, coasts, waterways, and energy production and consumption. Our nation’s security is increasingly at risk due to resource scarcity and the physical impacts of a changing environment. At CC&E, we work to better understand these very complex and dynamic conditions, sharing knowledge so that people have the information to adapt and prepare for a rapidly changing environmental landscape.