Sustainable Urban Water Transdisciplinary Research Program for Undergraduates

Engaging Undergraduates in Transitioning Toward Sustainable Urban Water Systems


Program Dates: May 31 – August 2, 2017

389 Applications Received

Applications have been reviewed and final selections have been made, see below for details.


The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) offers its second Undergraduate Research Program (URP) for the summer of 2017. 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.

The 2017 UWIN URP program will engage students in three strands of activities:

Cutting Edge Independent Research Projects

Working closely with mentor scientists, students will delineate a research question and hypotheses, develop and implement a project, analyze data, give a poster presentation at the UWIN All Scientists’ meeting in early August 2017, and write a research report. Students also will be encouraged to produce a research paper for publication in a peer reviewed journal and to present their results at a national conference.


Reflective Practice and Training Activities

Skill building workshops and seminars will support student learning. Students will participate in in-person and virtual sessions in scientific writing, transdisciplinary science, ethics in sustainability, strategies for effective communication, and future options in study and work.


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. They will be encouraged to look beyond their own discipline as well. Students will participate in workshops and seminars led by experts from different fields. A Forum on Opportunities in Urban Water Sustainability Research and Applications will showcase examples of natural science, engineering, and social science in action.

Students in the 2017 program will receive a stipend of $4,500 plus room and board on-campus or 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.

Project Mentor Host Institution Student’s name
Project 1. Variation in Vegetation’s Influence on Urban Climate Tom Meixner University of Arizona Kayla Pope
Darrel Jenerette University of California Riverside Miguel Valencia
Project 2. Evaluating Options for Management of Urban Flood Hazards Andrew Miller University of Baltimore Maryland County Analit Chambi-Rojas


Project 4. Water Resources and Heat Emergencies Dave Hondula Arizona State University Tiffany Justice
Project 5. Natural Solutions for Urban Watershed Sustainability Jennifer Cherrier

Brianne Smith

Brooklyn College of the City University of New York Ashley Rolon-Marlowe
Project 6. Visualizing Urban Water Sustainability Indicators within a Video Game for Collecting Water Management Ideas from Gamers Andre Dozier

Mazdak Arabi

Colorado State University Krzysztof Miezgiel
Project 8. Water Affordability Case Studies. Elizabeth Mack Michigan State University Marlene Guzman
Project 9. Transitions to Socially Equitable and Environmentally Just Sustainable Urban Water Systems Sharon Harlan Northeastern University David Ortiz
Project 10. Characterizing the Urban Energy Water Nexus through Modeling and Data Analysis. Forrest Meggers Princeton University Erica Edwards
Project 11. System-of-Systems Analysis of Water Infrastructure Resilience under CimateChange Impacts Ali Mostafavi Texas A&M Earl Zedd


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) and Christopher Swan (University of Maryland Baltimore County).

The cooling effects of vegetation on urban climate are frequently cited as a justification for expansion of urban greening. However, the magnitude of vegetated cooling is not well established and likely varies among cities in response to local climate conditions, plant species characteristics, and local urban form. The lapse rate, which is 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 develop a distributed project where a network of up to four UWIN URP students all deploy air temperature sensors in a coordinated manner in addressing a common question across four UWIN regions, initially targeting Los Angeles, Mid-Atlantic, Phoenix – Tucson sun corridor, and the Pacific Northwest. Each student will work with a local mentor but also be trained as part of cross-site network in micrometeorology. The undergraduate team will devise a study plan together that allows comparison between cities while also allowing each individual to investigate localized issues through additional data collection.

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


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


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


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



Project 2. 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 UWIN URP 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. A team of 2-3 UWIN URP students will compare results at multiple sites, with one student each at UMBC, the University of Arizona and/or the University of Georgia. Each student will also address their own research questions building on site-based issues and their particular interests. Students will use 2-d hydraulic models for simulation of floods generated by intense precipitation events. They 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:


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


For more information about the University of Georgia and Dr. Bledsoe, please visit the following websites:




Project 3. Microclimates and Human Activity Patterns Near Urban Surface Water: A Case Study of Tempe Town Lake, Arizona. David M. Hondula (Arizona State University).

Access to comfortable and safe outdoor environments for recreation is an important quality of life indicator for cities. Urban parks with surface water features such as streams, lakes, and reservoirs are popular recreational destinations, and in some cases focal points of economic and cultural activity. UWIN URP students will assess microclimatic conditions and human activity patterns at Tempe Town Lake, an artificial reservoir that is a hub for local recreation and cultural gatherings with more than two million annual visitors. Varying stages of development along the lake provide a natural experimental setup to measure fine-scale controls on microclimate and generate useful information to guide future lakefront design efforts. Students will conduct interviews with local water managers and city planners to learn the historical context and future growth plans for the lake. They then will use portable meteorological sensors to quantify the thermal environment, make systematic observations of human uses of the lake area, and conduct short surveys of lake visitors. Results will help validate large-scale simulations of urban climate and human activity patterns, measure the impact of surface water features on microclimate, and broaden our understanding how this particular use of water impacts the quality of life in a desert city.

For more information about ASU and Dr. Hondula, please visit the following websites:

Project 4. Water Resouces and Heat Emergencies. David M. Hondula (Arizona State University)

Drinking water is a vital resource to help people avoid dangerous increases in core body temperature when exposed to hot environments. Ensuring that all people have access to water supplies during extreme heat events is thus a critical public health preparedness strategy. Loss of electrical power coincident with an extreme heat event could pose threats to water access, as regular supplies rely on electrical pumping of water in many parts of cities like Phoenix. This project will build an understanding of the water resource landscape available in the Phoenix metropolitan area during the summer months. Participants will analyze survey and interview data to understand how households use water as a coping resource during typical summertime heat conditions, as well as how they would anticipate using or seeking water in a combined power failure-heat emergency. Participants will also review existing emergency plans and interview emergency managers and water managers in the region to examine the accessibility of drinking water supplies to different communities within the city under various heat emergency scenarios.

For more information about ASU and Dr. Hondula, please visit the following websites:




Project 5. 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 (CSO) 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 Dr. Cherrier and Smith, please visit the following websites:




Project 6. Visualizing Urban Water Sustainability Indicators within a Video Game for Collecting Water Management Ideas from Gamers. Mazdak Arabi and Andre Dozier (Colorado State University).

Games with a scientific purpose have been shown to effectively search for solutions in geographical, biological, and neurological contexts. Gamers can outperform computers in some of the most challenging scientific investigations such as protein folding. Brain power going into video gaming is immense, with 200 million hours of games played per day in the USA alone, and on average 10,000 hours played by age 21. Attempting to channel some of this brainstorming capacity through proper visualization that is vital for effective water resource planning, we are building a game to collect gamer ideas on sustainable management of water in urban contexts. UWIN URP students with background in Computer Science will build visualizations of human-to-human and human-to-computer performance based on economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

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



Project 7. Quantifying Non-Darcian Flow Regimes in the Biscayne Aquifer of Southeast Florida.  Michael Sukop and Jessica Bolson (Florida International University).

The karst Biscayne Aquifer supplies most of Southeast Florida with water. Many aquifer strata contain highly interconnected 2-cm diameter pores. The size and abundance of these pores leads to very high hydraulic conductivity (K) that cannot be quantified using standard methods for many reasons. The UWIN URP student will address the challenge of understanding the behavior of flow in these rocks at intermediate gradients from about 10-5 to 10-3, which are most relevant to regional aquifer behavior. The student will perform measurements of flow and head differences with intermediate viscosity fluid substitution. The student will break new ground in our efforts to determine the relevant hydraulic conductivity, which is crucial to the accuracy of groundwater flow models used to predict water availability and saltwater intrusion in Southeast Florida.

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




Project 8. Water Affordability Case Studies. Elizabeth Mack (Michigan State University).

Water shutoffs in Detroit highlight the growing issue of affordability of water services for residential consumers. As the cost of providing water to end users continues to rise, this issue will become more pressing. To help assess the affordability of water for residential consumers, UWIN URP students will do case studies in defined UWIN regions, collecting and using water pricing data and Census information. Students will explore cutting edge questions about water affordability, addressing such topics as the pressures behind rising water rates and the consequences with a particular focus on equity. This will add valuable case information to ongoing UWIN work to understand water affordability for residential consumers, while providing the students with valuable practice in data collection and analysis, and use of geographic information within geographic information systems.

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




Project 9. Transitions to Socially Equitable and Environmentally Just Sustainable Urban Water Systems. Sharon Harlan (Northeastern University).

In this project, UWIN URP students will join the team that is assembling a spatially explicit Social Equity and Environmental Justice Database (SEEJD) that enumerates, describes, and maps water hazards for vulnerable populations in the UWIN regions. With the SEEJD the students can analyze water-related hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities in a common and comparative framework. The students also will conduct field work that highlights a few case studies to provide rich, in-depth descriptions of environmental justice water issues situated within local contexts. UWIN REU students will select a site with guidance from the SEEJD team, conduct telephone and email interviews with affected individuals and organizations (e.g., academics at local universities, advocacy groups, water managers, community members), and may make an on-site visit to gain firsthand knowledge of the community s/he is studying. Students will receive training and skill development in interviewing techniques, participant observation, narrative development, and data visualization. This research will provide valuable input for UWIN stakeholders meetings, community outreach, MOOC, and the development of Blueprint Indicators for social equity and water.

For more information about Northeastern University and Dr. Harlan, please visit the following websites:




Project 10. Characterizing the Urban Energy Water Nexus through Modeling and Data Analysis.  Forrest Meggers (Princeton University), Sybil Sharvelle (Colorado State University) and Elie Bou-Zeid (Princeton University).

The urban energy water nexus contains a diverse set of interactions and interdependencies that originate in both the energy and water utility sectors as well as in inherent aspects of the built environment. UWIN URP students will contribute to the development of new sensing and data analysis techniques to characterize the potential to improve both water and energy efficiency in new water systems. There also will be opportunities to incorporate the data on energy and water interactions into city climate models. Students will develop independent research characterizing energy-water interactions using new tools, datasets, and models highly relevant to the Urban Water Sustainability Network.

For more information about Princeton University and Dr. Meggers, please visit the following websites:


For more information about Princeton University and Dr. Bou-Zeid, please visit the following websites:


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




Project 11. 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. 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 successfully mitigate the adverse climate change impacts. Students will collect water supply systems data from UWIN cities 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:

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 2017 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

Frequently Asked Questions


When is the application due?

The application must be submitted electronically by February 10, 2017 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 to 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 2017. This excludes students who will be starting the undergraduate work in the fall of 2017, and those who received their undergraduate degree in spring of 2017. However, second semester senior who will be completing their undergraduate degree in December 2017 or January 2018 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 845-677-7600 x326 or