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Fulbright Award Sends ESU Professor to Thailand for Project

Dr. Marcia K. Schulmeister, associate professor of geology at Emporia State, has been chosen for a Fulbright Specialist project in Thailand, according to a joint announcement from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Schulmeister’s Fulbright project will focus water resources of the Khorat Plateau of northeastern Thailand and along the Mekong River near the border between Thailand and Laos, the announcement stated. The work will be in cooperation with Khon Kaen University, a Thai university of over 50,000 students.

Dr. Kim Simons, physical science chair and associate professor of physical sciences, said Schulmeister’s Fulbright award was a well-deserved recognition of her expertise in her field and of the relationship she has developed with the Thai university.

She has worked in recent years with Thai professors, students and consultants, both in their homeland and through an ESU-KKU exchange program on the Emporia campus. Her previous project focused on a method for alleviating major flood disasters by processing floodwaters into sustainable groundwater resources in central agricultural parts of the country where its aquifer is being rapidly depleted. A two-year pilot project has been completed, with the third stage pending because of infrastructure financing costs.

The work has benefitted not only Thailand but her Emporia State students who have been involved in research.

“The petroleum and hydrology worlds are always coming to us for graduates because she leads, she teaches those students,” Simons said.

The new project will be totally different than the previous one, Schulmeister said, although it, too, will involve an aquifer. Rather than floodwaters, however, she will be working with high-pressure artesian wells that flow naturally. 

“They flow under natural pressure, reaching heights of up to 30 feet.” Schulmeister said. “That in itself is exciting for a hydrogeologist to study. ... This also is some of the purist water in the world.”

Nestlé water-bottling company has a huge plant there, she said, as does the Chang Group beverage company. More importantly, Thailand produces one of the world’s largest crops of rice, a major global export. 

“The primary reason the Thai government is interested in the wells is because of a more frequent incidence of drought,” she said. “Farmers have recently experienced here severe  drought years and the rice-paddy fields have been dry. The government is installing massive surface storage tanks and managing this water supply so that it is properly allocated to farmers.”

As part of her Fulbright requirements, she will present a workshop to introduce new technology to the Thais and a conference, give a presentation about flowing wells, and will participate in a five-day field trip into Laos, where she will work with geologists from other countries, including Laos, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and Canada.

Schulmeister expects to meet and work with John Barnett, Emporia State associate professor of social sciences, who will be lecturing and conducting research in Vietnam on agriculture and aquaculture policies through the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.

She also is closely involved with numerous projects and agencies in the United States, including the Kansas Water Office and the Kansas Water Resource and Research Institute. She and her students also operate a hydrogeology research and teaching station on the ESU campus.

Schulmeister also has been involved in developing the Equus Beds aquifer’s artificial storage and recovery project near Wichita, a project designed to pull water from the Arkansas River and store it in the aquifer. The system is designed to alleviate flooding and resupply the dwindling aquifer, while simultaneously not damaging the geology of the area, and is similar to the Chao Phraya project she conducted in Thailand. 

“This approach process is being implemented all over the world,” Schulmeister said.

The Fulbright Specialist Program provides short-term academic opportunities to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at post-secondary institutions around the world, according to the announcement. The Specialist Program was created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program.