Transdisciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates in Sustainable Urban Water Systems

Engaging Undergraduates in Transitioning Toward Sustainable Cities


Program Dates: May 27 – July 29, 2020

Click HERE to Learn More About the 2020 Cohort!

Paula Rueda Villamil

Using Mobile Urban Sensing Technologies to Understand Urban Air Quality in Real-time 

Mentor: Elie Bou-Zeid Princeton University – Princeton, NJ

Air quality data are generally collected through fixed urban weather stations, which offer low spatial coverage. The Mobile Urban Sensing Technologies (MUST, is a sensing kit developed at Princeton University that can be deployed on mobile vehicles to collect high spatio-temporal resolution urban air quality data. The aim is to use the MUST to enable a better understanding of the air quality dynamics and how they relate to the properties of the built environment. This can help to inform local environmental urban planning strategies. The student will design an investigation as part of the MUST project, deploying kits in buses to report and record data in real-time across the city. The student will acquire skills in data collection and analysis, the preparation and calibration of the sensing kits, and interfacing with publicly accessible apps.


Gabrielle Jawer

System-of-Systems Analysis of Water Infrastructure Resilience Under Climate Change Impacts 

Mentor: Ali Mostafavi Texas A&M – College Station, TX

Resilience assessment for water infrastructure systems includes significant uncertainty regarding future climate change scenarios and subsequent impacts. The UWIN-URP student will use a system-of-systems (SoS) framework for abstraction and integrated modeling of climate change stressors, physical infrastructure performance, and institutional actors’ decision making. Through the use of the SoS approach, the student will: 1) examine various behavioral and social phenomena influencing key actor adaptation and response behaviors to climate change risks; 2) study the evolution of infrastructure systems under climate change impacts; and 3) conduct experiments to identify and evaluate adaptation pathways that mitigate adverse climate change impacts. The UWIN-URP student will collect data from UWIN cities’ water supply systems and develop models to simulate and visualize pathways for enhancing the resilience of water infrastructure under climate change. The student will collaborate with post-doctoral, Ph.D., and Masters students in the I-SoS Research group at Texas A&M University and learn dynamic system and agent-based modeling and data analysis techniques.


Kati Burton

Willingness to Pay for Ecosystem Services 

Mentor: Alexander Maas University of Idaho – Moscow, ID

This undergraduate research project will focus on residents’ preferences for water supply and treatment options.  Using survey responses and observed water data, the student researcher will identify what city and household factors drive water use, and how beliefs around water affect individuals’ willingness-to-pay for green infrastructure and other amenities. As part of this research project, students will design a survey, learn basic data management skills, and conduct statistical analysis. Undergraduate researchers are expected to be self-motivated and to contribute meaningfully to an academic research article. Familiarity with GIS, Python, R, Stata, or MATLAB is preferred, but not required.


Matt Darrah

What happens to irrigation in residential yards? 

Mentors: Aditi Bhaskar, Ben Choat Colorado State University – Fort Collins, CO

Lawn irrigation in residential yards may be used by the lawns as transpiration, may be evaporated, or may infiltrate into the deeper subsurface soil. The balance between these components is important in semi-arid and arid cities for efficient use of water, managing stream baseflow, and managing groundwater depth. The UWIN REU student will use 1-D hydrologic modeling simulations to investigate the effect of the following key variables: soil type, rainfall, climate, vegetation, and irrigation. The questions that will be addressed by this work are: how does changing from automated lawn irrigation with a set time of day and day of week to a weather-based irrigation controller or a soil-moisture based irrigation controller change the amount of evapotranspiration from irrigation? How does this vary with different soil types, climate, and vegetation types in residential landscapes? This work will be used to predict what type of changes there will be to groundwater recharge with conservation measures implemented in lawn irrigation by municipal utilities and homeowners.


Ema Schwartz

Ecohydrology in the City: Strategies for Understanding Our Complex Urban Systems 

Mentors: Shirley Papuga, Kyotaek Hwang Wayne State University – Detroit, MI

Urbanization has considerable impacts on the hydrology of a landscape, in part due to development decisions related to stormwater management. These major alterations challenge our ability to quantify and physically represent hydrologic processes across these heterogeneous and quickly changing densely-populated landscapes.  In post-industrial shrinking cities such as Detroit, there is an urgent need for low cost, low maintenance strategies to sustainably manage vacant land and offer alternatives to failing “grey” infrastructure.  However, science and engineering have lagged, leaving the long-term success and sustainability of these strategies in question. The charge of understanding the movement of water and transport of contaminants in a highly-altered hydrologic landscape in a generally access-limited privatized urban environment will require innovative interdisciplinary research approaches addressing any environmentally-related problems.  The UWIN–URP student selected for this project will have the opportunity to explore some emerging ecohydrological strategies and interdisciplinary approaches for addressing problems in our complex urban systems by focusing on recent pilot studies developed in the spirit of the renaissance of Detroit.

Through participation in field data collection, lab experiments, and learning modules, the URP student will develop a number of skills, including collecting and analyzing micrometeorological data, vegetation changes from time-lapse photos, and large environmental datasets in MATLAB.


Tiajahlyn Furr

Impacts of Urban Landscapes on Groundwater  

Mentors: Mary Santelmann, Michael Harrison Oregon State University – Corvallis, OR

Urban areas impact groundwater by altering the natural landscape. Groundwater recharge in urban settings differs significantly from recharge in natural settings. Urban systems contain additional water sources such as urban runoff derived from local, imported, and reclaimed waters.  Many of the different water sources in urban areas are linked to diminished groundwater quality. In the Portland, OR area, a system of underground injection controls (UICs) or drywells, which are built in areas where impervious surfaces lack outlets to alleviate flooding, significantly influences subsurface flow. Along with septic systems, UICs installed throughout the city of Portland, OR contribute 11-12% of recharge within the Johnson Creek Basin. The student joining this project would design and carry out an investigation that would involve assembling data on UICs into a georeferenced database, based on well log information. The UWIN-URP student would also be able to incorporate fieldwork, including the collection of water samples. Some experience with Python programming would be ideal but not required for this opportunity.


Haley Selsor

Evaluating the Long-term Efficacy of Green Infrastructure 

Mentor: Brian Bledsoe University of Georgia – Athens, GA

Green infrastructure is an increasingly common stormwater management strategy because of its potential to control runoff, increase infiltration, improve water quality, and provide a host of co-benefits (e.g., cooling, habitat, etc.). While green infrastructure projects are being installed rapidly across the country, it is still unclear how they will function long term. The UWIN-URP student will use the EPA Stormwater Management Model (SWMM) to simulate green infrastructure across multiple storm events to explore how well the practices continue to infiltrate water and remove contaminants over time and under different rainfall regimes. The UWIN-URP student will learn how to set up and run SWMM using publicly available data, how to analyze and interpret model output, and how to effectively communicate the results of their research.


Vanessa Gomez & Kiernan Bartlett

In Trees We Trust: Examining the Intentions and Implementation of Urban Forestry Programs in the United States

Mentors: David Hondula (Arizona State University), Sharon Harlan (Northeastern University), Darrel Jenerette (University of California, Riverside)

Urban planners and designers are increasingly calling upon living and green infrastructure like trees to help address a wide host of socio-environmental challenges including heat, flooding, and air pollution. Trees can provide many co-benefits, such as better health and neighborhood beautification, to urban residents. Nevertheless, many city plans are relatively ambiguous regarding the specific goals that urban managers seek to achieve from tree planting initiatives, how those goals were established, and the measures needed to achieve those goals. This project will involve interviewing key stakeholders in a small number of medium- and large-sized U.S. cities to better understand the motivations and goals for urban tree planting programs. Environmental justice will be an important theme in interviews that will assess the extent to which current urban forestry initiatives are designed to, or capable of, reducing inequitable distributions of environmental benefits in cities. The interviews also will examine the processes that shape how trees are distributed and who influences decisions.

The student selected for this project will spend two to three weeks at each of three different host universities to gain a practical understanding of urban forestry successes and challenges in different socio-environmental contexts, and meet face-to-face with key stakeholders. Students will gain an understanding of how cities make decisions about urban forestry, and how the built environment in cities reflects social and environmental inequalities. Students will learn basic skills involved in conducting interviews and analyzing qualitative data, have introductory-level exposure to GIS and remotely sensed data, and develop professional skills in working with a geographically distributed and interdisciplinary team. Students who have taken courses in environmental studies, environmental policy, or related social sciences are encouraged to apply. Previous research experience on similar field research projects is encouraged but not required.


Allison Cerlanek

Water and Climate Social Networks in South Florida and Beyond. 

Mentors: Mike Sukop, Jessica Bolson, Tim Kirby Florida International University – Miami, FL

Understanding how people and institutions cooperate and transition to new conditions is fundamental to fostering the adoption of innovative integrated urban water management approaches that the UWIN project seeks to advance. There is a growing recognition of the importance of social network structure in developing this understanding. The well-developed quantitative theory of different network types and the various measures of network properties reflect network performance and its potential for improvement. The UWIN-URP student will self-learn basic social network analysis via collecting and analyzing small data sets and apply that learning to the analysis of available data from larger, more complex networks. Strong quantitative and advanced computer skills to extract complex data sets from raw survey results and process them into network graphs (e.g., R or Python programming or comparable) are required.

For more information about Florida International University and the project mentors, visit:

FIU School of Environment, Arts and SocietyMike Sukop faculty pageJessica Bolson faculty page

The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) offers its fifth, and final, Undergraduate Research Program (URP) for the summer of 2020. Participants will be given the opportunity to perform cutting edge, transdisciplinary research of immediate relevance to people in urban areas. Students with different research interests – social sciences, natural sciences, engineering – will be placed with a team of mentors at institutions in urban areas across the nation. The program will start and end at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Co.

Students in the 2020 program will receive a participation stipend of $4,500, on-campus or nearby housing, and up to $400 to help defray the cost of food. Students also will receive a travel allowance up to $900 towards travel expenses associated with participating in the program, including travel to and from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, for the kick off and wrap up meetings, and travel to their research site.

The UWIN Undergraduate Research Program (URP) will engage students in activities in three interwoven strands that, when experienced together, provide a strong foundation for pursuing excellence in transdisciplinary research in urban water system sustainability:

  1. Cutting Edge Independent Research Projects
  2. Reflective Practice and Training Activities
  3. Transdisciplinary Research Activities

A brief description of the activities in each strand follows:

Cutting Edge Independent Research Projects

This intensive nine week summer research experience will engage students in cutting edge, transdisciplinary research of immediate relevance to people in urban areas. Under the guidance of one or more scientific mentors, UWIN URP students will perform an independent research project of her/his own design that supports integration between social and natural sciences, and engineering. Projects also entail as connections to the national network of UWIN scientists and practitioners.

Once students delineate a research question and associated hypotheses, they will select appropriate methods and develop a research plan that will be presented in a written proposal at the end of the second week. Written proposals will be reviewed by mentors and fellow students for constructive feedback. Students will implement and complete the project on their own, ending with analysis and research report writing.

Students will present their results at the UWIN All Scientists’ meeting at the end of July 2019, attended by nearly 100 students, mentors, scientists and professionals from across the Network. Their meeting posters and abstracts will then be posted on the UWIN website. Students will complete a research report and submit appropriate data and metadata to their mentors and the program coordinator by the end of the final week of the program. Students will have the option to apply for a small pool of funds to produce a paper for a peer reviewed journal, or to present their work at a professional society conference.


Reflective Practice and Training Activities

Hallmarks of the UWIN URP program are emphases on reflective practice and collaborative science. Hands-on, interactive sessions will include: a) Ethics in Sustainability; b) Transdisciplinary Research Techniques; c) Communicating Science; d) Future Pathways to Graduate School and Jobs; e) Scientific and Technical Writing; and f) Introduction to statistical analysis (R Programming) software.


Transdisciplinary Research Activities in Urban Water Sustainability

Students will explore how to promote sustainable management of urban water systems by working with a team of disciplinary experts, both in their own region and across UWIN nationwide. The kick-off meeting at the beginning of the summer will launch the themes with presentations, discussions, and a hands-on case study of a local water sustainability issue in the Front Range of Colorado. During the summer, students will participate in weekly workshops and seminars led by experts from different fields, providing broad exposure to diverse perspectives on the science of urban water systems. The wrap up meeting at the end of the program will give students the opportunity to share with the UWIN community the results of their individual research project as well as the synthesis of their collaborative efforts on the case study. Students also have the opportunity to reflect as a group on what they learn over the summer.

The UWIN Undergraduate Research Program has ambitious goals for student participants, mentors, and the program as a whole.

Student goals


  • Develop strong research and inquiry skills
  • Gain deeper knowledge in the field of urban water system sustainability
  • Develop skills for transdisciplinary work
  • Understand key linkages between science and society, including those to policy, management, and communication
  • Acquire skills in connecting scientific research to policy, management, and communication

  Personal, social and professional:

  • Become more confident in the ability to do independent research
  • Experience the enjoyment of working with transdisciplinary research
  • Learn how to effectively interact with colleagues, advisors, mentors, and people outside their discipline
  • Build positive relationships and networks to support future career development
  • Become reflective practitioners of scientific research and transdisciplinary science
  • Appreciate the benefits and challenges of different career options in urban water sustainability


Mentor goals

  • Engage students in transdisciplinary research involving scientists, policymakers, and stakeholders
  • Expand and evaluate students’ thinking and understanding of science and its application to sustainable urban water systems
  • Act as professional role models to students
  • Establish an effective working relationships with students


Programmatic goals

  • Engage a diverse group of students, including race, background, type of school, career interest
  • Generate new knowledge and solutions for urban water sustainability that impact a broader audience
  • Forge collaborations among researchers, regional stakeholders, students, and the global community
  • Provide innovative and effective training for a new generation of transdisciplinary researchers
  • Contribute to our understanding of the roles that research experience and reflection play in undergraduate learning and vocational development

The Sustainable Urban Water Transdiciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates started in 2016 as part of the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) project. UWIN is supported by a 5 year grant from the National Science Foundation to Colorado State University and 18 other institutions to create technological, institutional, and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises. The 2016 UWIN Undergraduate Research Program (URP) was 8 weeks long, and the program was expanded to span 9 weeks in 2017.  All students start the program with a Kick-off meeting at CSU in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and starting in 2017, conclude the program back at CSU for a wrap-up session and to participate in the UWIN Annual Meeting.  Learn more about our previous programs by clicking the links below!

2019 Program Participants


2018 Program Participants


2017 Program Participants 


2016 Program Participants

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the application due?

The application must be submitted electronically by January 31, 2020 11:59 pm local time.


Where do I send my application?

The URP program application is completed online.


Am I eligible to apply if I am not a U.S. citizen?

To be eligible for this program, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.


Am I eligible to apply if I am not an undergraduate student?

No. To be eligible you must still be enrolled as an undergraduate during the summer of 2020. This excludes students who will be starting their undergraduate work in the fall of 2020, and those who received their undergraduate degree in spring of 2020. However, second semester seniors who will be completing their undergraduate degrees in December 2020 or January 2021 are eligible


Am I eligible if I cannot attend the full 9 weeks of the program?

No. The program is a full-time commitment from May 27 to July 29, 2020. Program dates are NOT flexible.


What is school’s maximum GPA?

We are asking for your institution’s maximum GPA. Some schools run on a 4.0 scale, some on a 4.3 scale and others use a different scale. We use this to determine where your GPA falls within your institution’s scale.

Some schools do not use a GPA scale. If this is the case please indicate this and have your written evaluations or other source of information about your performance available upon request.


How important is the essay portion of the application?

We are looking for thoughtful answers to our essay questions. Since most of the students that apply to our program are highly qualified, the essays are very important in our final decision-making process. Therefore, it is in your best interest to put time, effort, and careful thought into writing these essays.


Do I need letters of recommendation?

No! We only ask that you provide the names and contact information of three references in your application. It is a good idea to ask permission from your references to use their name before listing them.


How do I rank my project interests?

It is essential that you indicate which project(s) you are interested in. You will only be considered for projects that you rank, and the order of preference will be taken into account when considering your application.


When will I be notified if I have been accepted?

Students will be contacted in March 2020.


Commitment to diversity

We are committed to diversity and inclusion. We especially encourage students from under-represented minorities and first generation college student to apply to the program.


I have additional questions…

Contact Dr. Kevin R. Burgio at