Transdisciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates in Sustainable Urban Water Systems

Engaging Undergraduates in Transitioning Toward Sustainable Cities


Program Dates: May 29 – August 1, 2019

The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) offers its fourth Undergraduate Research Program (URP) for the summer of 2019. 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 2019 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


Project 1. Observing the Solar Radiation and Heat Protection Factors of Tree Shade: A Novel Comparative Assessment of Desert Trees.  Jennifer Vanos and Mary Wright (Arizona State University)

The cities of Phoenix and Tempe are aiming to increase tree coverage to 25% land area in the coming 10–20 years. Although the effectiveness of trees to reduce urban temperatures is well-known and routinely measured, the solar ultraviolet (UV) protection of trees is rarely measured or used to justify tree selection and location. With both heat illness and skin cancers being serious health concerns in the region, new data providing sun and heat protection factors of trees are needed for government, planning, and environmental health authorities. The UWIN URP student will investigate the comparative quality of tree shade relative to the available solar UV radiation and heat beneath the canopy using a novel measurement technique utilizing GoPro cameras in Tempe and Phoenix public parks.

For more information about Arizona State University and the project mentors, visit: School of Sustainability; Jennifer Vanos faculty page; Mary Wright profile page

Project 2. Project 2. Crowdsourcing Household Water and Electricity Data. David Hondula, Paul Chakalian, and Liza Kurtz (Arizona State University)

Effective management of residential water and electricity consumption is a common goal for urban sustainability programs and individual households. Reliable data concerning utility costs, contextualized within the lifestyles and daily experiences of bill payers, could be useful to inform utility policies and programs as well as to promote peer-to-peer learning. Research suggests that utility comparisons are effective in promoting behavior change, but data provided by utility companies are typically at coarse scales without relevant contextual details. This project will test different techniques for gathering household-scale water and electricity use and cost information from residents of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. The UWIN-URP student will develop and implement web-based surveys to collect utility information from hundreds to thousands of households over the course of the summer. In addition to evaluating how the data collection strategy influences response rates and quality, the URP student will have the opportunity to analyze survey responses to determine if and how previously discovered relationships between social and physical variables and utility use are manifest at the household scale. Project mentors include faculty and graduate students in geography and environmental social science.

For more information about Arizona State University and the project mentors, visit: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning; David Hondula faculty page;  Paul Chakalian profile page; Liza Kurtz profile page



Project 3. Natural Solutions for Urban Watershed Sustainability. Jennifer Cherrier, Brianne Smith, Nia Rene (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. The UWIN-URP student 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. The student 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 the project mentors, visit: Brooklyn College Earth and Environmental Sciences; Brooklyn College faculty website



Project 4. Investigation of New Technologies for Rain Gardens and Permeable Pavements to Address Phosphorus Export and Costs. Tyler Dell (CSU)

Stormwater control measures (SCMs) have been shown to provide a tremendous impact on receiving water bodies.  However, in some cases, that impact has not been fully positive.  In the case of rain gardens (a.k.a. porous landscape detention, bioretention, bioswales), various media mixes have been shown to increase export of pollutants of concern, primarily phosphorus. Additionally, while permeable pavements have been a useful technology for providing stormwater management, they are limited by their high capital costs.  The City of Fort Collins is interested in pursuing both of these emerging technologies to help resolve issues of exporting pollutants while reducing their high costs.  The UWIN-URP student working on this project will design a study to evaluate the use of water treatment residuals for preventing the export of phosphorus in rain gardens.  Additionally, the student will conduct monitoring of a new technology for creating a natural permeable pavement that can dramatically reduce cost.  This project will provide experience in stormwater sampling, data analysis and comparative statistics, as well as knowledge on performance of stormwater controls.

For more information about Colorado State University and the project mentor, visit: One Water Solutions Institute website; The Urban Water Center website; The Colorado Stormwater Center website; Tyler Dell profile page



Project 5. Water and Climate Social Networks in South Florida. Mike Sukop, Jessica Bolson, Tim Kirby (FIU) 

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 analysing 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 (e.g., Python programming or comparable) are required.

For more information about Florida State University and the project mentors, visit: FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society; Mike Sukop faculty page; Jessica Bolson faculty page



Project 6. System-of-Systems Analysis of Water Infrastructure Resilience under Climate Change Impacts. Ali Mostafavi and Kambiz Rasoulkhani (Texas A&M)

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 the 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.

For more information about Texas A&M and the project mentors, visit: Zachry Department of Civil Engineering; I-Sos Research Group faculty profile



Project 7. Evaluating the Long-Term Efficacy of Green Infrastructure. Brian Bledsoe and Roderick Lammers (The 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 rapidly installed 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 results of their research.

For more information about the University of Georgia and project mentors, visit: UGA College of Engineering; Dr. Bledsoe research website; Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems; Dr. Lammers research website



Project 8. Hydrological Performance of Plant Communities Occupying Urban Green Infrastructure. Chris Swan and Dorothy Borowy (UMBC) 

Green infrastructure often involves planting of specific plant species combinations.  Such plantings serve many purposes, both aesthetically and functionally.  As plant physiology requires water to be exported from the soil via transpiration, and there is inter- and intraspecific variation in transpiration rates, plant community composition can shift water fluxes in these structures. The UWIN-URP student will collaborate with members of the Swan lab to estimate inter- and instraspecific variation in water flux of the dominant species on 3-5 different green infrastructure features in and around Baltimore City, Maryland. Results will be visualized, analyzed and presented in collaboration with students and investigators from other disciplines – hydrologists, engineers – to better understand how green infrastructure features function on the urban landscape.

For more information about UMBC and project mentors, visit: Department of Geography & Environmental Systems; Biodiversity research @ UMBC



Project 9. Ecohydrology in the City: Strategies for Understanding our Complex Urban Systems. Shirley Papuga (Wayne State University)

Stormwater management has considerable impacts on the hydrology of urban landscapes, challenging our ability to quantify and physically represent hydrologic processes.  In post-industrial shrinking cities such as Detroit, there is an urgent need for low cost and low maintenance stormwater management strategies. Recently, green infrastructure (GI) has gained momentum as a cost-effective, natural approach to managing stormwater. However, the long-term success and sustainability of GI remain questionable. The UWIN-URP student will investigate the movement of water and transport of contaminants in heterogeneous, quickly changing and densely populated urban landscapes using innovative interdisciplinary research approaches. The student will focus on recent pilot studies developed in the spirit of the renaissance of Detroit and will have the opportunity to perform isotopic analysis, use image-processing tools, and manipulate environmental data sets with MATLAB.

For more information about Wayne State University and project mentor, visit: Wayne State University Department of Geology; Ecohydrology and hydrometeorology lab



Project 10. Social Equity and Environmental Justice in Urban Water Systems: Transitioning To Sustainability. Sharon Harlan and Mariana Sarango (Northeastern University)

Social equity and environmental justice are essential qualities of sustainable solutions for urban water systems because the health and well-being of low-income and racial/ethnic minority communities have historically been and continue to be adversely affected by the cost and quality of water, the placement of hazardous facilities in their neighborhoods, and the inaccessibility of attractive and protective water features. The goal of the Social Equity and Environmental Justice (SEEJ) project is to undertake social science studies of water inequities and injustices in UWIN cities across the United States. The UWIN-URP student will join a team of researchers at Northeastern University that is conducting several studies of marginalized groups usually not involved in decision-making about access to clean water, water pricing, exposure to water hazards, and water governance. The team is analyzing interviews with community organization leaders and household surveys about hardships associated with water costs and perceptions of water-related risks such as quality, scarcity and floods. We also are collecting pilot data for a study of inner-city youth and how access to water recreation affects their mental health and well-being. The UWIN-URP student will have some flexibility in designing the research project. S/he may choose to work with interviews and/or use computer software to analyze textual data, and  may participate in field work in local communities. A student with basic training in statistics is preferred.

For more information about Northeastern University and project mentors, visit: Northeastern University College of Social Sciences and Humanities; Sharon Harlan faculty page; Mariana Sarango profile.



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 25, 2019 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 2019. This excludes students who will be starting their undergraduate work in the fall of 2019, and those who received their undergraduate degree in spring of 2019. However, second semester seniors who will be completing their undergraduate degrees in December 2019 or January 2020 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 29 to August 1. 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 2019.


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. Aude Lochet at