Kerry Howe
Kerry Howe

The Center for Water and the Environment, a research center based at the University of New Mexico, has received a 5-year, $5 million Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) award from the National Science Foundation.

The center, formed in summer 2013, is led by Kerry Howe, associate professor of civil engineering, who is the principal investigator on the grant. Co-principal investigators on the grant are Department of Civil Engineering faculty Bruce Thomson, Andrew Schuler, Mark Stone, and Vanessa Valentin.

Additional UNM faculty participating in the grant are José Cerrato, Ricardo González-Pinzón, John Stormont, Julie Coonrod, Janie Chermak, and Caroline Scruggs.

“This award is very satisfying,” Howe said. “It’s going to mean a lot to both the School of Engineering and to UNM. This will give us a chance to make a bigger footprint in water research at UNM and to create a pipeline of new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals to address the water challenges of the future.”

The CREST program provides support to enhance the research capabilities of minority-serving institutions through the establishment of centers that effectively integrate education and research. The award promotes the development of new knowledge, enhancements of the research productivity of individual faculty, and an expanded presence of students historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines.

Howe said the issue of water is one that those from the arid Southwest understand and are passionate about. He said the subject is of particular interest to women and under-represented groups in the area. One of the goals of the center is to attract a more diverse student base into STEM disciplines, especially those from Hispanic and Native American cultures.

This will be done through a variety of outreach and recruitment activities to encourage K-12 students to consider STEM disciplines, such as:

• The development of a mobile, trailer-mounted demonstration unit called a Water Activity Vehicle and Experience (WAVE), which will allow students to understand and experience water-related research in a hands-on way.

• The development of a new dual-enrollment course in sustainability and water engineering, which will be offered to Albuquerque high school students, allowing them to receive both high school and college credit for the completion of the course.

• The development of a two-week summer field class, modeled after the water resources field methods class at UNM, that will be offered to incoming freshmen and transfer students. The class will allow students to spend several days at a UNM learning laboratory and several days conducting field research on a water-environmental topic.

• Support of retention programs for students, such as mentoring, tutoring, advising, involvement in student organizations, participation in conference and research, contests and competitions, and internships.

In addition to outreach and recruitment, the award will be used to help increase research in water-related subjects by funding several graduate-level and post-doctoral researchers. The research component will be focused in four areas: watershed processes, water treatment technologies, water/energy interactions, and research integration and decision-making.

The Center for Water and the Environment consolidates and maximizes the water- and environmental-related research already under way across campus. The center will be studying a variety of challenges related to water, including the effects of wildfires and climate change on water availability; reservoir storage; advanced water and wastewater treatment to desalinate brackish ground water, recycle treated wastewater, and protect the environment; water for energy development and resource recovery; and water quality issues.

Howe’s research focuses on the physical and chemical processes for water and waste treatment, desalination, membrane processes for environmental treatment (including microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis), water chemistry, and engineering design.

Media contacts: Kim Delker (505) 277-5859; email: ksdelker@unm.edu, or Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; email: kwent2@unm.edu