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ECU, Oka’ deliver on water management degree program

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

ADA – East Central University launched its unique, new master’s program in Water Resource Policy and Management five years ago, and is now placing its growing number of graduates at the national vanguard of solving water-related challenges.

The Water Resource Policy and Management (WRPM) master’s degree program builds on the successful academic and real-world relationship between ECU and the Oka’ Water Institute. ECU created the institute alongside the degree program in 2016 with local support from the Chickasaw Nation, the Ada Jobs Foundation and the City of Ada. Its mission is to address Oklahoma’s water resource needs through sustainable management strategies that address real-world demands. Oka’ is the Chickasaw and Choctaw word for water. ECU’s program is the only one in the U.S. that combines law and policy, environmental science and Native American law. Graduates are working in tribal water policy offices, in city and state water offices, for oil and gas companies, and even for the Nature Conservancy.

Dr. Christine Pappas is the director of the WRPM program. ECU faculty with interdisciplinary expertise teach seven required classes and a number of electives. “The professors in this program have taken a collaborative approach to creating a master’s degree that truly elevates its students,” Pappas said. “Almost all of our students were able to either get a water job or a promotion in a current job because of the degree. This field has tremendous growth potential. Every city and state has water planning.” The program’s faculty brings a diverse wealth of knowledge to the program. For example, Dr. Erick Ananga was specifically hired to teach environmental policy analysis. Dr. Charles Peaden specializes in the history of environmental policy and conflict resolution. Further, Dr. Terrie Becerra teaches environmental sociology and economics. Dr. Bruce Moring recently developed a class on environmental toxicology. Dr. Jacintha Webster, who is a licensed attorney, specializes in Native American law and politics. A class in water quality and treatment will be offered by Dr. Shanna Padgham in spring of 2022.

Five years ago, ECU President Dr. Katricia Pierson served as provost and was instrumental in creating the degree program. “The idea for the water program and institute sprang from a planning study the City of Ada and the Ada Jobs Foundation completed, which highlighted the unique aspects of our region,” said Pierson. “We knew our academic programs had the expertise to cover the policy and law, as well as the environmental science. The master’s degree was a natural fit for us. Under the direction of Dr. Pappas, this specialized program has thrived.” Offered completely online, the WRPM degree is enhanced by a connection with Blue Thumb, a statewide, citizen-based program guided by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission that trains volunteers to monitor creeks and streams. The relationship between the academic program and Oka’ the Water Institute provides several opportunities for professors and students to excel. Water-related research is facilitated by close proximity of ECU to Byrds Mill Spring and the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. WRPM students are also invited to participate in the annual Oka’ Water Sustainability Conference and Water Fest – a fun, educational event hosted by Oka’ for area fifth graders. “We thoroughly enjoy our close working relationship with the professors and graduates who are a part of the WRPM degree,” said Susan Paddack, Oka’ director. “In addition to our annual Sustainability Conference and Water Fest, we work with them to provide a summer guest lecture program for the students and we provide summer research funds for professors. We are working together to make ECU known for its water expertise and ensuring a sustainable water future.” For more information about the WRPM program, please visit or email Dr. Pappas at The online program is 30 hours and can be completed in one year at an approximate cost of $10,000. -ECU


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