Grant to aid University of Iowa water program


The Sustainable Water Development program will teach graduate students at the University of Iowa how to solve environmental issues throughout the nation.

By Kayli Reese

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A new program for graduate students that focuses heavily on water will roll into campus next year.

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship has awarded the University of Iowa a $3 million grant to start the Sustainable Water Development program.

“We grow a lot of food and feed the world,” said Associate Professor David Cwiertny, the principal investigator on the grant and director for the program, when highlighting the strengths that the state of Iowa has in food production.

This program would train students in various fields on bettering food, energy, and water qualities in communities that are struggling with the issues, Cwiertny said.

“It’s important to note that the [the grant] is extremely competitive,” said College of Engineering Dean Alec Scranton said.

Cwiertny said the UI was in the right place at the right time when the option to apply for the grant came about. He said the NSF program had hoped to give the grant to an institution in the Midwest because of the region’s strong emphasis on food production.

Professor Michelle Scherer, the head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said the UI plays an important part in having clean water. There is a strong focus on teaching students about clean water, she said, and that may have made the UI stand out to the NSF.

“The program will create new courses focused on food, water, and energy access,” she said.

Scherer expects to have six different focus  areas in the program: teaching, researching, civic entrepreneurship, and civic, global, and professional engineering.

In the past, Scherer said, degrees in clean and accessible resources yielded mostly teaching jobs; this program will allow students to choose from a variety of paths.

“Students crave this,” she said. “This is what we hear from them.”

Having the water program offered in several areas, such as business and law, gives lots of expertise to students in their respective fields, Scherer said. Having clean water is an important issue for students in many fields to train in, she said, and the program will give graduate students the training needed to tackle these issues in communities that need better resources.

The program will be offered to graduate students in the fall of 2017 and will be a component of students’ master’s or Ph.D. degrees, Scherer said. The grant money allows for 50 students to go through the program over the next five years.

In addition to the 50 students going through the program, Cwiertny said other students can receive a certificate in the program.

Cwiertny also emphasized that the program will be heavily student-driven and give many more options postgraduation. He said students will further become leaders in their respective areas, and the program will create a diverse student body with a diversity in interests.

“The program is designed to give students a lot more choice in the direction of their training,” he said.

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