Top row (from left): Austin Rutherford, El’gin Avila. Middle row: Bharati Neelamraju, Sophia Borgias. Bottom row: Yiyi Huang, Nupur Joshi, Hannah Hindley. Not pictured: Adam Chmurzynski Valerie Madera-Garcia, Rachel Murray, Lorah Patterson and Norma Villagómez-Márquez. (Photo: Mari Cleven/UA Research, Discovery & Innovation)
Top row (from left): Austin Rutherford, El’gin Avila. Middle row: Bharati Neelamraju, Sophia Borgias. Bottom row: Yiyi Huang, Nupur Joshi, Hannah Hindley. Not pictured: Adam Chmurzynski Valerie Madera-Garcia, Rachel Murray, Lorah Patterson and Norma Villagómez-Márquez. (Photo: Mari Cleven/UA Research, Discovery & Innovation)

12 UA Graduate Students Named Carson Scholars

With $60,000 awarded, the 2018 cohort focuses on water, health, climate and other issues related to the environment and social justice to improve the quality of life for people in Arizona and around the world.
Jan. 19, 2018

Twelve University of Arizona graduate students focusing on water contamination, sanitation, insect-borne disease and a number of other issues related to the environment have been awarded a total of $60,000 through the Carson Scholars Program.

With the goal of building a network of graduate students and faculty committed to interdisciplinary research on environment and society, the scholarship program helps support the scholars' research and trains them to effectively communicate the significance of their work to the public and decision makers.

"The Carson Scholars Program plays an integral role in the UA's drive to recruit the best interdisciplinary graduate students and to further our goal to link environmental scholarship with community education and decision making," said Raina Maier, interim director of the UA's Institute of the Environment. "Having met this year's cohort of scholars and experienced their knowledge and enthusiasm, I am confident that they will make a positive and lasting impact in their respective fields."

Scholarships are funded by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, Biosphere 2, College of Science Galileo Circle, Institute of the Environment and individual donors. The program is dedicated to Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who, through her work and writings, launched the modern environmental movement.

"The Haury program is particularly interested in the intersection of environmental scholarship and social justice issues, and the six scholars we are funding this year bring diverse voices to work at this intersection," said Anna Spitz, director of the Haury program. "We also strongly support the Carson program's recognition of the importance of building communication skills to produce effective research, successful careers and societal improvement."

Since it was established in 2011 by Diana Liverman, UA Regents' Professor in the School of Geography and Development, the Carson Scholars Program has awarded $380,000 to 76 graduate students from departments and schools across campus.

Several of the scholars will discuss their research during weekly talks at Borderlands Brewing Co., 119 E. Toole Ave. in Tucson, as part of the UA Science Café series starting Feb. 8.

The 2018 cohort includes these scholars:

  • El'gin Avila, an Agnese Nelms Haury fellow in the first year of his doctoral program in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, is working on a largely community-driven project to study South Tucson residents' health concerns and how they relate to the Tucson International Airport Authority Superfund Site.
  • Sophia Borgias, an Agnese Nelms Haury fellow and a Ph.D. student in the School of Geography and Development, focuses her research on Native American water rights issues and the impact of ongoing conflict over water in the arid Owens Valley in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California.
  • Adam Chmurzynski, an Institute of the Environment fellow and first-year doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is using his background in computer science to create software tools for visualizing the present and future locations of hundreds of thousands of plant species around the world — information that conservationists and decision makers can use to plan reserves, parks and urban development.
  • Hannah Hindley, an Institute of the Environment fellow pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction, examines post-boom frontier towns and how the people in Alaska's glacier country are adapting to changing landscapes. She hopes to hone her communications skills while chronicling the changes in both built and natural environments in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
  • Freshwater fellow Yiyi Huang, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, is using state-of-the-art measurements and statistical techniques to improve understanding of the interactions among Arctic sea ice, clouds and radiation.
  • Nupur Joshi, an Agnese Nelms Haury fellow and first-year doctoral student in the School of Geography and Development, is analyzing the challenges women face due to inadequate access to water and sanitation in the wake of climate variability in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Agnese Nelms Haury fellow Valerie Madera-Garcia, a second-year doctoral student in environmental health sciences at the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, focuses her research on understanding the dynamic of the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya in Puerto Rico. She plans to study environmental factors influencing the mosquitoes' selection of breeding sites, including the prevalence of septic tanks, and model disease risk.
  • Rachel Murray, an Institute of the Environment fellow and doctoral student in the Arid Lands Resources Sciences Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, compares community-level water governance in three Himalayan Indian states to uncover the local root causes of disparate outcomes from development projects in mountainous regions.
  • Bharati Neelamraju, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and an Agnese Nelms Haury fellow, is using her background in physics and optical sciences to examine the structure-property relationships in organic semiconductor devices, which potentially can reduce the environmental footprint across the life cycle of electronic gadgets and devices and drive next-generation sustainable electronics.
  • Galileo Circle/College of Science Fellow Lorah Patterson, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is accelerating the warming effect of climate change on large blocks of plants and soil by moving them from cooler, high elevations to warmer, low elevations in the Rocky Mountains. She is studying how the changing climate is affecting the plant communities and functioning of alpine meadows.
  • Biosphere 2 fellow Austin Rutherford, a Ph.D. student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, uses field-based experiments to investigate the seedling phase of velvet mesquite shrubs in the Sonoran Desert grasslands. His work will be used to develop software that will allow land managers to better evaluate the susceptibility of rangelands to shrub encroachment, which can limit the amount of palatable grasses available to livestock.
  • Norma Villagómez-Márquez, an Agnese Nelms Haury fellow in the second year of her Ph.D. program in the Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, is examining the presence of organic pollutants in harvested rain water. Her goal is to develop analytical methods to address international issues in water quality.