What do doughnut economics, a middle school lesson plan and tiny cow graphics all have in common?

All of these things were represented in various projects as part of the 2024 UNM Undergraduate Water Science Communication Fellowship presentations held recently at The University of New Mexico.

The program paired undergraduate students with faculty and other students across campus to work together to create a creative communication project around water science that would be used to explain the research to general audience.

The event, which had its genesis under the UNM Grand Challenges focus area of sustainable water resources, was one of the events in the annual Undergraduate Research Opportunity Conference (UROC).

Students majoring in everything from chemical engineering to political science took part in the presentations, where they communicated their research projects related to the issues of water resources and the environment, as told from each student’s unique viewpoint — influenced by their academic major, the work of a UNM mentor, and their personal interests and talents.

For some, the project was a podcast, a painting or a sculpture (one of which featured running water). For others, the project involved a video or a website. Other students took a more traditional approach, communicating their research on a poster.

The Water Science Communication Fellowship was started in 2022 by Anjali Mulchandani, assistant professor in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, along with Sydney Donohue Jobe, education specialist for the Center for Water and the Environment.

Since then, the event has grown from 10 students the first year to 15 this year. It has also grown in its reach, with students who participated in a previous year now serving as mentors for the current cohort of undergraduates.

Jobe said the goal of the water science communication fellowships is to provide an accessible way for undergraduates to get involved in research, especially with those outside of their academic field.

“It’s getting students involved in research across campus and working together in an interdisciplinary way,” she said.

And for Kamryn Zachek, an economics and philosophy major who participated in the first event in 2022 when she was a freshman, her role is even larger. For the last two years, she has been the student lead, helping to plan the event alongside Mulchandani and Jobe.

Zachek, now a junior, said she was in charge of organizing twice-weekly January-April meetings with participants, where they would share progress of their projects and she would provide peer feedback and guidance on abstracts and projects.

Jobe said that model — of creating future leaders — is one of the most beneficial outcomes of the water science communication fellowship program.

“I’m most proud of how it has continued on for now the third year,” she said. “It is incredibly nice to see how we’re taking a student cohort and having those students continue on with their mentor and the research. We’re also seeing them get internships and jobs because of it, so the impact is long-lasting.”

Each participating student receives a $1,000 stipend to complete their communication project, which could be based on either a faculty member’s water research or their own water-related research. No research experience is necessary, and students from both STEM and the humanities are invited to participate.

Zachek said she first became involved in the water science communication program because she was interested in undergraduate research, then got a lot more out of the experience than she expected.

“One of the most positive impacts has been participating in a research team and getting connected with other mentors,” she said.

As an economics major, she had an opportunity to meet faculty and other students in a variety of disciplines. She is currently interested in pursuing water-related research and plans to go to law school after she earns her bachelor’s degree.

Jobe said the water science communication fellowship is also part of a research study itself, looking at the learning outcomes of the program.

“We’re looking at how the fellowship impacts students’ research identity and self-efficacy, as well as increasing interdisciplinary partnerships,” she said.

She is collaborating on that with Mulchandani, Zachek and Vanessa Svihla, a learning scientist with joint appointments in the UNM Organization, Information and Learning Sciences (OILS) program, as well as the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The students who presented and their project titles were:

  • Tiwalola Anawo, a biological anthropology major, “Exposing the Chemical Drivers in Animas Rivers Resoration.” Mentor: Raphael Oliveira.
  • Roselynn Padilla, a liberal arts major, “Water Works: Fostering Diversity and Interest in U.S. Water Infrastructure Careers through Middle School Education.” Mentors: joni m. palmer and Sydney Donohue Jobe.
  • Dororthy Mberile, a computer engineering major, “Impact of Wildfires on Rivers in New Mexico.” Mentors: Ricardo González-Pinzón and Paige Tunby.
  • Elena Finnegan, a community and regional planning major, “The Future of Green Water Infrastructure.” Mentors: Heather Himmelberger and joni m. palmer.
  • Paris Eisenman, a civil engineering major, “Mechanics and Risks of Atmospheric Water Harvesting.” Mentors: Anjali Mulchandani, Constanza Kremer and Matthew Russell.
  • Quyen Le, a chemical engineering major, “Addressing Water Scarcity Using Membrane Distillation Technique to Purify Existing Wastewater Resources.” Mentor: Allyson McGaughey.
  • Dana Awad, a chemical engineering major, “An Infographic to Introduce Conventional and Advanced Membrane Processes and Applications.” Mentor: Allyson McGaughey.
  • Carmen Atchley, a civil engineering major, “Climate Change in New Mexican Communities and Solution Created by Atmospheric Water Harvesting.” Mentors: Anjali Mulchandani and Matt Russell.
  • Justin Spitz, a medical lab science major, “Water Science for Healthcare Professionals.” Mentor: Heidi Honegger Rogers.
  • Abigail Castro, an economics major, “Addressing Goal 6 Water Concerns with Doughnut Economics.” Mentor: Heidi Honegger Rogers.
  • Harmony Martinez, a biology major, “Flow to Faucet: Studying Southwestern and Stream Systems Through the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed.” Mentor: William Mejia.
  • Kenya Hernandez, a chemical engineering major, “Plastic – A Part of You.” Mentors: Maycee Hurd and Sydney Donohue Jobe.
  • Elena Rosales, a biology and sustainability studies major, “Local Carbon Interactions: Exploring Biogeochemical Research in the Bosque Ecosystem.” Mentor: Alex Webster.
  • Diego Salazar, an environmental science major, “Long Term Ecological Research at Rio Calaveras.” Mentor: Laura Crossey.
  • Ella Bodor Hatfield, a political science major, “How Procedural Justice Improves Community-Based Water Management Practices: Studies from Honduras.” Mentor: Jami Nunez.

Sustainable water resources is one of UNM’s original Grand Challenges — problems of global, national and regional significance that require cross-disciplinary solutions — that have been identified as necessary to improve life and the economy of New Mexico. Water research is now being housed in a new UNM research center called ARID (Accelerating Resilience Innovations in Drylands).

The Water Science Communication Fellowship is funded primarily from private donations. To learn how to support this program to ensure it continues, contact Mary Wolford, senior director of development for the School of Engineering, at mary.wolford@unmfund.org, or Anjali Mulchandani at anjalim@unm.edu.

Top image: Quyen Le, a chemical engineering major, presents “Addressing Water Scarcity Using Membrane Distillation Technique to Purify Existing Wastewater Resources.”