Transdisciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates in Sustainable Urban Water Systems

Engaging Undergraduates in Transitioning Toward Sustainable Cities


Celebrating Five Years of Engagement!

2016 – 2022

The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) offered its fifth, and final, Undergraduate Research Program (URP) in the summer of 2020. Participants were 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 – were placed with a team of mentors at institutions in urban areas across the nation. The 2020 program was offered virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2016-2019 programs started and ended at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Co, with students spending 8 weeks at their mentors’ institutions.

Students received a participation stipend, on-campus or nearby housing, and a food allowance to help defray the cost of food. Students also received a travel allowance towards 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 UWP was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Dr. Mazdak Arabi, Colorado State University, and other funds from Colorado State University and from the Institutions of its many mentor scientists. The program was directed by Dr. Alan R. Berkowitz, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and a leadership team that included Drs. Ali Musafavi, Texas A&M University, Jessica Bolson, Florida International University, and Elie Bou-Zeid, Princeton University. Program Coordinators were Dr. Aude Lochet (2016-2019) and Dr. Kevin Burgio (2020). Dr. Shirley Vincent served as the program evaluator. For more information about the program, please contact Alan Berkowitz at

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!


2020 Program Participants


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