Kayaking in a river or hiking along a stream, you’re likely to find water expert Mark Stone basking in nature. As a University of New Mexico professor with interest and research invested in many water-related matters, Stone pulls his energy from the outdoors and does everything he can to protect it.

“Water runs through everything and defines what I do, both on the work front and when I’m not working,” Stone said.

Stone works in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and has a variety of different focuses, from headwater-dependent systems like the Rio Grande to river restoration to climate change to natural disasters. He is also the director of the UNM Resilience Institute, where the goal is to create a sustainable future.

Stone was recently chosen to lead the Transformation Network, a five-year, $15 million multidisciplinary project funded by the National Science Foundation. This project, which will start on Sept. 15, aims to improve regional sustainability.

“I think part of what makes Mark actually remarkable is not only is he a brilliant scholar but his leadership style is truly inclusive and collaborative in ways that are really needed for this type of transdisciplinary team,” Stone’s close colleague Melinda Morgan said.

Morgan, a UNM professor and director of the Sustainabilities Studies program, has been working with Stone for over a decade and appreciates the investment he has in his work. She also noted his work for Transect of the Americas, a project composed of experts from a variety of different disciplines that are working together to find short-term and long-term solutions for water imbalance in headwater-dependent systems.

“I was immediately impressed by Mark’s passion and … his ability to make connections across a wide variety of types of fields, from engineering to ecology to hydrology and to policy,” Morgan said.

As an extrovert, Stone loves being around other people, especially his students. The transition to an online teaching environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic was not a happy one for Stone, and he’s been teaching his classes outside since UNM returned to in-person learning.

“I get all of my energy from my students. That’s what brings me pleasure and joy in my life and Zoom did not do that for me, so I just felt like I was just constantly getting by,” Stone said. “So to be able to teach face-to-face again now has really meant a lot to me.”

Morgan said Stone often has many projects going on at once but is able to lead them in unique ways that help people make connections. As a leader, Morgan said he is able to pull everyone together in an inclusive way.

“What impresses me the most is Mark is able to (lead) in this sort of fun, engaging and collaborative way that keeps us all going and keeps us all interested,” Morgan said.

Along with teaching class outdoors, Stone excels in getting his field classes and research teams to experience the real environment that they’re trying to preserve.

“These aren’t abstract things that we’re trying to understand and protect … Getting your hands dirty and your feet wet, literally, is really the way that I’m wired,” Stone said.

According to Stone, many students that he takes out into the field have never gotten this kind of hands-on experience before. This is partly due to the lack of opportunities like that available to underrepresented communities, which he is trying to change.

“Being able to bridge that passion with what we’re trying to accomplish in our research team is something that I really value, and it feeds into just another thing that I really care about which is building diversity and creating equity in engineering,” Stone said.

The international studies and research front has been facing challenge after challenge in the pandemic, and Stone said it’s been “a tremendous disruption.” Things like international classes and international student exchanges have been put to a halt, and when those things can resume still remains unclear.

“I feel like everyone’s making the most of it. I’m amazed the students have been so resilient,” Stone said. “They just keep working hard and doing their best but it’s been a pretty dramatic setback.”

One step at a time, Stone is driven to build a better future and will continue his water-focused work to make the world a better place.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716