Sustainable Urban Water Transdisciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates

Engaging Undergraduates in Transitioning Toward Sustainable Urban Water Systems


Program Dates: May 29 – August 1, 2019

Applications for Summer 2019 will open at the end of November

The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) offers its third Undergraduate Research Program (URP) for the summer of 2018. 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 2018 program will receive a stipend of $4,500 plus room and board on-campus or in nearby housing. 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, natural sciences, and engineering as well as connections to the national network.

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 write abstracts and present a poster during the UWIN All Scientists’ meeting early August 2018 with full participation of students, mentors, scientists and professionals from the Network. Posters and abstracts will 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 Programming Software (R or Matlab).


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 Forum on Opportunities in Urban Water Sustainability Research and Applications will provide additional, in-depth examples of engineering, environmental science, and social science in action. The wrap-up meeting at the end of the program will give students 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


Project 1. Variation in Vegetation’s Influence on Urban Climate. Darrel Jenerette (University of California Riverside), Mary Santelmann (Oregon State University), Thomas Meixner (University of Arizona)

The cooling effects of vegetation on urban climate are frequently cited as a justification for expansion of urban greening. However, the magnitude of vegetative cooling is not well established, especially at within neighborhood scales of individual heat exposure and likely varies among cities in response to local climate conditions, plant species characteristics, and local urban form. The lapse rate, the vertical change in air temperature from the ground surface to 2 meters, may provide a valuable key to understanding urban climate variability. To address the uncertainties in urban vegetation cooling capacity we will offer a distributed project where up to three UWIN-URP students deploy air temperature sensors within their local campus in a coordinated manner to address a common question across UWIN regions. Each student will work with a local mentor but also be trained as part of the cross-site network in micrometeorology, including the lapse rate concept, and the use of environmental sensors. The undergraduate team will devise a study that makes comparisons between cities while also allowing each student to investigate local issues through additional data collection.

For more information about University of California Riverside and Dr. Jenerette, please visit:

For more information about Oregon State University and Dr. Santelmann, please visit:

For more information about University of Arizona and Dr. Meixner, please visit:



Project 2. Observing the Urban Environment: Measuring Thermal and Radiative Impacts of Trees. Matei Georgescu, Dave Hondula, Ashley Broadbent (Arizona State Univ.); Jennifer Vanos (U. California-San Diego); Ariane Middel (Temple Univ.).

Effective and sustainable solutions for urban heat mitigation remain poorly understood given the lack of comprehensive datasets characterizing surface and near-surface thermal impacts across the diurnal cycle. UWIN-URP students at ASU will conduct original research projects related to the observation, analysis and modeling of microclimates in urban settings. A multi-week observational campaign over the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area can measure the effects of urban trees on surface radiative balance, air temperature, and human thermal comfort across the diurnal cycle. UWIN-URP students will be exposed to techniques and tools, spanning modeling (e.g., WRF, Envi-Met, Rayman) and geospatial/statistical software programs (e.g., GrADS, R, MATLAB), to meteorological observational equipment (e.g., dry and wet bulb, globe, wearable/infrared thermometers).

For more information about ASU, Dr. Georgescu, Dr. Hondula and Dr. Broadbent, please visit:

For more information about the University of California-San Diego and Dr. Vanos, please visit:

For more information about Temple University and Dr. Middel, please visit:



Project 3. Natural Solutions for Urban Watershed Sustainability. Jennifer Cherrier and Brianne Smith (Brooklyn College of the City University of New York).

During high precipitation events where the capacity of wastewater treatment plants is exceeded, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are discharged untreated into adjacent and downstream waters. In NYC, billions of gallons of this CSO polluted water are released annually (NY DEP) and climate change is expected to magnify this problem. Green infrastructure is a promising best management practice for controlling this runoff, but many of these systems are passive and their effectiveness for water interception and pollutant removal is inconsistent. UWIN-URP students will explore the utility of a hybrid ecosystem-based stormwater technology that augments and ‘activates’ green infrastructure to simultaneously maximize pollutant removal efficiencies and allow for water storage/reuse. Students will work with natural/applied/social scientists, urban planners, and core stakeholder groups as part of a collaborative approach to assess both the environmental and socioeconomic efficacy of this and other green infrastructure systems for mitigating stormwater runoff into urban waters.

For more information about Brooklyn College and Drs. Cherrier and Smith, please visit the following websites:



Project 4. Cross-city Stormwater Management Comparison. Aditi Bhaskar (Colorado State Univ.)

UWIN exists in part to allow integration and comparison of urban water systems across cities. The study cities vary widely in temperature, precipitation amount, age of urban development, urban form, population, and economic resources. To address how these differences relate to the stormwater management strategies that are employed, the UWIN-URP student will compare GIS data on stormwater control measure type and distribution across the UWIN cities. The type and density of stormwater control measures is expected to vary with intensity of impervious surface cover, precipitation characteristics, and age of development. The URP student also will compare the distribution of stormwater control measure functions with what might be expected if the goal was to restore pre-development water budgets in urban areas. The student will help expand locally-focused work on stormwater management and promote future learning about stormwater management effectiveness in various climates and urban forms.

For more information about Colorado State University and Dr. Bhaskar, please visit the following websites:


Project 5. Assessing the Benefits of Emerging Technologies for Stormwater Management. Sybil Sharvelle (Colorado State Univ.)

Stormwater controls, including best management practices and green infrastructure, have tremendous impact on receiving water body quality while also having the potential to provide co-benefits in urban areas. Those co-benefits can include urban livability, increasing ecosystem diversity, improved air quality, reduced impacts from urban heat islands amongst others. In this project, the UWIN-URP student will assess the performance and co-benefits of several emerging technologies for stormwater management relative to conventional technologies. The emerging technologies have been demonstrated at lab scale and full-scale demonstrations exist for some of the technologies. The student will use a set of common sustainability indicators already developed to provide a framework for comparison of the stormwater technologies. The UWIN-URP student working on this project will gain experience with applying sustainability indicators to assess co-benefits of technologies, knowledge on performance of stormwater controls and collaboration within an interdisciplinary team.

For more information about Colorado State University and Dr. Sharvelle, please visit the following websites:



Project 6. Examining Environmental Decision Making in South Florida. Jessica Bolson and Mike Sukop (Florida International University)

For this project, UWIN-URP students will join the Miami based team, with researchers at Florida International University and University of Miami, that is examining how individuals make decisions about the adoption of water saving technologies across the UWIN regions.  The decision experiments we are conducting are based on the use of Choiceflow, an online decision simulation software program that allows us to study how people make decisions in natural environments. With our research team, students will analyze decisions around water-related technologies, information seeking behaviors, response to different forms of information (such as natural hazard bulletins), and preferences for different responses. The students also will accompany researchers engaged in stakeholder-based field work that allows for the study of environmental decision making within local contexts. UWIN-URP students will select a project to direct on their own, with the support of faculty members and a PhD student. Students will receive training and skill development in survey techniques, participant observation, Choiceflow project development, and data visualization.

For more information about Florida International University and Dr. Sukop and Bolson, please visit the following websites:



Project 7. Plant Diversity Patterns in Bioswales of Portland, Oregon. Michelle Talal, Dr. Mary Santelmann (Oregon State University).

Improving plant diversity and cover of green infrastructure is crucial in urban areas. In Portland, Oregon, UWIN has identified the need to assess landscape-scale patterns of plant diversity in riparian areas, bioswales, and detention ponds. There are already rich data sets for the Portland Metro region (City of Portland 2017) and the UWIN-funded parks research of summer 2017. The UWIN-URP student will conduct a research project to understand the status and function of Portland’s bioswales, which are landscape elements designed to absorb and filter surface water runoff. The student will perform an assessment of bioswales focusing on bioswale distribution, size, function, plant diversity and cover, and management. The student will participate in all aspects of field data collection and learn valuable skills related to sampling design, plant identification, data management, as well as introductory ArcGIS skills for displaying and assessing field data. The student’s research will help to improve bioswale management practices.

For more information about Oregon State University and Dr. Santelmann and Michelle Talal, please visit the following websites:



Project 8. System-of-Systems Analysis of Water Infrastructure Resilience under Climate Change Impacts. Ali Mostafavi (Texas A&M).

Resilience assessment for water infrastructure systems includes significant uncertainty regarding future climate change scenarios and subsequent impacts. The UWIN-URP students 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, students 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 the adverse climate change impacts.

UWIN-URP students 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 UWIN-URP students 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.

For more information about Texas A&M and Dr. Mostafavi, please visit the following websites:



Project 9. Evaluating Options for Management of Urban Flood Hazards. Andrew Miller (University of Maryland Baltimore County), Tom Meixner (University of Arizona) and Brian Bledsoe (University of Georgia).

The Baltimore and Tuscon/Phoenix metropolitan regions include several of the urban watersheds in the continental United States most prone to flash flooding, with extremely rapid runoff response to summer thunderstorm events that generate extreme flood peaks. Traditional approaches to urban runoff management and flood risk reduction (e.g., control of runoff from source areas, use of natural storage capacity in the channel and riparian zone) have been used but this is a difficult problem to solve. This project focuses on use of hydraulic and hydrologic models to simulate flood-wave transmission for alternative management scenarios, including stream restoration and reconnection of degraded channels with the adjacent floodplain. UWIN-URP student will use 2-d hydraulic models for simulation of floods generated by intense precipitation events. The student also will utilize geospatial data on channel and riparian zone topography and roughness from airborne LiDAR, field surveys with total station and terrestrial laser scanners, and topographic point clouds developed from camera images using structure-from-motion (SfM) software.

For more information about UMBC and Dr. Miller, please visit the following websites:

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!

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 29, 2018 11:59 PM.


Where do I send my application?

The URP program application is completed online. If you cannot fill it out online, please contact Dr. Aude Lochet for a hard copy of the application.


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 2018. This excludes students who will be starting their undergraduate work in the fall of 2018, and those who received their undergraduate degree in spring of 2018. However, second semester seniors who will be completing their undergraduate degrees in December 2018 or January 2019 are eligible.


Am I eligible if my school runs on a quarter system?

Yes. You still are eligible to apply even though you would arrive after the program begins. You are responsible for making this clear to the mentor and receive her/his approval before you are accepted into the program. Students on the quarter system who arrive late are encouraged to stay late, thus completing the full 9-week experience. If their participation is less than 9 weeks, the stipend is pro-rated accordingly.


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 a very important aspect 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?

You are not asked to provide letters of recommendation with your application. Please provide us with the names of three references and their contact information. During the selection process we may ask for letters of recommendation or contact your references via phone or email. It is a good idea to ask permission from your references to use their name before listing them.


How do I rank my project interest?

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 by the end of March.


I have additional questions…

Contact Dr. Aude Lochet at