I am currently the Principal Investigator (PI) of a $4.8M National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (NSF – PIRE) project that catalyzes, through research and education, the development and deployment of low-energy approaches for improving urban water productivity while protecting human and ecosystem health (http://water-pire.uci.edu). The project links five different universities (UCI, UCLA, UCSD, University of Melbourne, and Monash University) in two water-stressed regions of the world (southwest U.S. and southeast Australia) with unique and complementary expertise in the development and deployment of rainwater tanks, biofilters, and wastewater recycling for potable substitution and watershed protection. By facilitating joint research and knowledge sharing, our PIRE accelerates education and training in this critical area of water sustainability, and diffuses knowledge about sustainability options to U.S. middle school and high-school students, undergraduate STEM majors, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and practitioners.
My teaching philosophy is premised on the idea that the best teaching is informed by the latest research. By bringing research in to the classroom everyone benefits: students are better able to grasp the immediacy and relevance of what they are learning, and my own research is informed by the student’s reactions and questions. An example of the latter is a Critical Review my colleagues and I just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology entitled “From raintanks to catchments: use of low-impact development to address hydrologic symptoms of the urban stream syndrome” (doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b01635). The paper’s genesis was student frustration over the lack of a one-stop quantitative and comprehensive review of how low impact development technologies improve stream health and mitigate the urban stream syndrome (while there are several reviews along these lines, they are tailored for ecological audiences).
As PI of the UCI Water PIRE, I have leveraged our research program into a number of exciting educational activities intended to inspire young minds from all walks of life. For example, our team runs a 6-week fully paid summer field-based “boot camp” for undergraduates interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in urban water sustainability called the Undergraduate PIRE Program (UPP) Down Under. “UPP” (as we call it) is truly bi-national — students spend part of their time in Southern California (on the campus of UCI) and the rest of their time in Southeast Australia (on the campuses of Melbourne University and Monash University). Twelve students are selected from a competitive applicant pool (last year over 60 top engineering and social science students applied from UCI, UCLA, and UCSD).