News and Highlights
This is a list of past iUTAH EPSCoR news from 2012 to 2018.
April 2, 2018
The iUTAH EPSCoR project has built Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) capacity in Utah through its Research Catalyst Grant (RCG) program. These competitively funded grants targeted faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUls) involved in water-related research. They also strongly encouraged undergraduate student participation in research, presentations, and publications. What started as seed funding for research evolved to take a more holistic approach including professional development, release time from teaching, and funding for additional equipment and resources. An outreach component of this program also supported 23 outreach events to diverse audiences.
As a result, 20 researchers, 11 of them women, were awarded RCG funding totaling $300,000 over the past five years. The research involved four different PUIs: Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University, and Westminster College.
The research of RCG awardees has captured the attention of larger universities in Utah, as demonstrated in these stories below:
"The RCG grants and participation in iUTAH gave the PUI faculty opportunities to flex their professional muscles through research; it also provided a break from heavy teaching loads,” said one participant in a post-award focus group. Another applicant not receiving an RCG grant said that “the whole RCG process had been instrumental in providing a relatively streamlined, low friction opportunity, which incentivized him to put together a proposal, and providing feedback that strengthened the proposal to the point where it could be competitive in another setting.” The applicant later received funding from a federal agency.
Awardees have taken full advantage of professional development training, opportunities, and funding offered by iUTAH to grow their skills and present their research. Three recipients participated in communications workshops by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, 8 participated in an iUTAH sponsored Broader Impacts Forum, and one recipient was awarded a travel stipend to attend a Council on Undergraduate Research Institute on developing an undergraduate research program at a PUI. The program also supported travel for four students and their mentors to present RCG research at scientific conferences.
iUTAH’s RCG program has also encouraged continuity and synergy among research efforts carried out at PUIs, as evidenced by the publication of a co-authored paper by two non-concurrent RCG recipients. Suzanne Walther from UVU was among the first researchers to receive a RCG award in 2013. After she left the university for another post, Weihong Wang continued Walther’s initial research, and later expanded on the theme by submitting her own successful RCG proposal in 2015. Both researchers published their results, along with other iUTAH collaborators, in a paper titled “The historical records of stable isotopes and trace metals along Utah Lake-Jordan River transition zone, Utah (USA)” through the Utah Geological Association Publication, in 2017.
Interdisciplinary research and cross-campus collaborations has been a hallmark of the iUTAH RCG program. Research projects have involved 111 students to date, representing one third of the iUTAH undergraduate student cohort. Additionally, 14 of the researcher awards involved collaborations with at least one of three academic research universities in the state. Three also involved collaborations with other PUIs. To date, RCGs have generated 7 publications, 51 presentations, and 8 submitted grant proposals. Five of these grant proposals were awarded, for a total of $169K. Undergraduate students at PUIs throughout Utah were truly the beneficiaries of the RCG program by being involved with faculty mentors in real research and having opportunities not otherwise available to them.
March 19, 2018
Andreas (Andy) Leidolf, iUTAH’s assistant director and project administrator, will be starting a new position as Program Coordinator for the Utah State University Honors Program on April 1. The program involves around 600 students at USU. Similar to his role in iUTAH, the position combines program coordination and administration, with program development and implementation, as well as long-term strategic planning to sustain and grow the program. There may also be some opportunities for teaching and coaching.
While Andy will be missed for his ideas, organizational abilities, and energy that have shaped iUTAH over the past three and a half years, he will continue his connection to various science partnerships that he fostered here. As Executive Director of the Society for Freshwater Science, a position held since January 2018, he oversees the efforts of SFS in promoting further understanding of freshwater ecosystems and the interface between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Later in 2018, he will start a visiting fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Community Engagement Fellows program, continuing his work with them by writing for publication, mentoring, and teaching of the next cohort group.
Ellen Eiriksson, iUTAH’s education, outreach, and diversity coordinator, began dividing her iUTAH time with the Natural History Museum of Utah as their Citizen Science Liaison in January. She has been helping to support NHMU's citizen science programming, including the museum's effort to create and coordinate a statewide citizen science community.
iUTAH will soon welcome their newest member as Ellen and Dave Eiriksson, iUTAH’s GAMUT instrumentation technician at the University of Utah, are expecting a baby this month, March 2018. This means that Ellen will be out of the office through mid-June on maternity leave. Afterwards, she will be returning to wrap-up EOD-related items through the end of the project on July 31.
March 15, 2018
iUTAH researcher Erin Jones helped lead a citizen water sampling effort to study and assess rivers and streams that lead into Utah Lake. Aimed at identifying the source of pollutants, this first project involved roughly 150 participants on March 10.
Jones, a teaching assistant for the participating Watershed Ecology class at Brigham Young University, said that around two-thirds of the people involved had contributed to a scientific study before this one. Of the people she talked to, most had some connection to water resources or just a general concern about the environment in general and Utah Lake specifically.
“I think one of my favorite parts about talking with people as they came to pick up their sampling materials or return their filled bottles was to hear about their connection to the watershed,” said Jones. “Many were sampling areas that they were familiar with, but hadn't necessarily ever stopped to think about the water quality there. Other people signed up to go somewhere in the watershed they had never been before, giving them a much deeper connection to place.”
Additional information on the sampling project came from reporter Auburn Remington in a March 7 article in Brigham Young University’s The Daily Universe. “BYU professor Ben Abbott, an ecosystem ecologist and the project director, said the project is focused on sampling by rivers and streams that lead into Utah Lake because they are ‘sensors of ecosystem health. Sampling many places in the river network gives you a high-resolution image, like a computer or a phone screen. If you have more points, you can see more clearly what is going on in a system,’ Abbott said. ‘What’s neat about a river is that it’s a natural organization, and the river has created this tree-like form that extends out into the landscape, and then if we listen to the river or analyze the chemistry of the river, it can tell us what’s happening.’
Abbott said the goal of the project is to identify the non-point sources of nutrients to Utah Lake, or in other words, the nutrients flowing into the lake from things other than pipes. Non-point nutrients include things that flow through the soil, such as fertilizer or contaminated storm water. ‘The other purpose of the study is to get people connected to their watershed, so we appreciate and value what we understand and know,’ Abbott said. ‘If people spend time around Utah Lake and in the rivers flowing to Utah Lake, they’ll realize that this isn’t a trashed or destroyed ecosystem, it’s a beautiful and vibrant environment.’ “
Jones said of those who participated, it would “hopefully increase their awareness and concern about local environmental issues.” The research group hopes to have another event in summer and another class at BYU in the fall to measure seasonal changes in factors such as nutrients. She invites people interested in attending future citizen science samplings of Utah Lake to visit the Utah Lake Research Collaborative website.
Press: The Daily Universe
March 14, 2018
iUTAH researcher Nancy Huntly, professor and director of the Ecology Center at Utah State University, have been named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. She will be one of 28 honorees formally recognized by the ESA, the world’s largest community of professional ecologists.
A media release provided by USU’s science writer Mary-Ann Muffoletto said that the “ESA lauded Huntly’s ‘foundational research on herbivory, coexistence and human ecology,’ as well as her commitment to and innovation in both science communication and the application of ecological principles to the management of natural resources.
‘Nancy is an outstanding scientist, professor and administrator,’ says Maura Hagan, dean of USU’s College of Science. ‘Her contributions to the establishment and leadership of the USU Climate Adaptation Science program epitomize her innovations in science communication, as well as her scholarly research achievements. Nancy is an exceptional role model to her students and to the young faculty she mentors.’ “
Additionally, “Throughout her career, Huntly has been a key advocate for students and faculty from underrepresented groups. She’s a major contributor of the NSF-funded iUTAH project’s education, outreach and diversity efforts in areas of workforce development and diversity. Huntly also assisted with the establishment of a USU student chapter of SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
As chair of Science Unwrapped, Huntly oversees a six-person committee and dozens of volunteers, who present community-wide science outreach events, which draw some 500 attendees, ranging in age from preschoolers to senior citizens, to USU’s campus each month during the academic year.”
February 23, 2018
A media release provided by the University of Utah’s science writer Paul Gabrielsen said “Utah’s early residents would be surprised to see the canopy of trees that covers the Salt Lake Valley today. Few trees are native to the valley, which means that most of the trees present there today are imported. It’s a much different situation from a natural forest, which is shaped by climate, water availability and biodiversity.
The article goes on to add that “tree species diversity can be shaped by the species available in nurseries, the preferences of the homeowners, and even the tree selections of their neighbors. ‘Ecology started out as a descriptive discipline,’ Pataki says. ‘You want to understand why you see the distribution of species that you do. This paper states what is out there in Salt Lake, and makes the best attempt we can to figure out why.’
Urban ecology incorporates social science into ecology and is a relatively unexplored field. So, Pataki and Avolio didn’t have much precedent to go on when designing their study. They began by looking at comparable neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley and chose nine neighborhoods representing combinations of median home age (pre-1939, 1951-1970 and 1985-2005) and median household income (less than $45K, $45-85K and more than $85K). From those neighborhoods, they chose five or six blocks to survey, and sent postcard surveys to homeowners, followed up with in-person visits in 2014. The researchers were looking at the tree species present both in homeowner’s yards and in streets. In the homeowner surveys, researchers asked what people liked about the trees in their yard, and what factors led them to remove trees."
Findings also show “that yards and neighborhoods close to each other had more similar species patterns, suggesting that neighborhoods have distinctive landscape identities. ‘These landscape identities likely contribute to the role that trees have in creating a sense of place,’ the team writes, ‘whereby people form a bond with specific trees and with the attributes of a place that trees help create.’ Pataki adds: ‘When you walk through a forest, you see different environments. That’s probably driven by soil characteristics or slope. Maybe in neighborhoods, people influence each other’s plant preferences.’”
Former U postdoctoral scholar Meghan Avolio, now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Tara L.E. Trammell from the University of Delaware were also co-authors of this study. The National-Socio Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) supported this research. While not an iUTAH-funded activity, the study relates to urban sustainability in Utah.
February 14, 2018
There are many internship opportunities for students at all levels found throughout the Utah educational system. iUTAH traineeships offered between 2013 and the present provided something different. “We knew we had students on the research-oriented campuses in the state that could benefit from gaining skills that were transferrable outside of academia,” said Ellen Eiriksson, iUTAH’s education, outreach, and diversity coordinator. The Traineeship Program is a workforce development initiative developed to provide students with skills that transfer beyond the academic realm, and that contribute to a strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) trained workforce in Utah.
“Not all undergrads go on to higher degrees or careers in academia,” said Eiriksson. “Traineeships are meant to give students skills that they can take directly to the workforce with them.” Trainees were paired with faculty and other mentors on campuses to gain experience in their laboratories or other work settings. As undergraduates, trainees served as integral members of research teams, learning new skills, and even serving as near-peer mentors, passing those skills onto incoming trainees.
The average student was engaged with the program for one year, although this amount of time varied depending on research needs. Students benefited from a team environment, training alongside graduate students and other near-peer mentors. Below are some examples of the many interesting projects that they were involved in:
- Linking sensor networks to science through ecoinformatics
- Integrating data and models for hydrologic applications
- Exploring green roof food production and green infrastructure water use strategy
- Social science data management
- Quantifying precipitation effects from the Great Salt Lake
One former trainee, Phil Suiter, currently works as a civil engineer for Ogden City. He said that he “enjoyed working in the iUTAH trainee program because it opened my eyes to all the variety of work performed for research studies,” adding that the program “helped me learn the importance of the planning and preparation needed prior to field work which has helped me be more effective as I visit my infrastructure improvement sites.”
Another trainee, Natasha Griffin, worked on the GAMUT project in the Provo River, which she says "helped me to gain experience in doing fieldwork and collaborating with other researchers, which made me more confident about pursuing my own projects. I'm now working on two publications of my own as I finish my senior year, after which I'll head to graduate school in aquatic microbial ecology."
From a faculty perspective, mentors appreciated that the program was not limited to a summer session, so students were available for as long as they were needed. One mentor said “we enjoyed the consistency and enthusiasm that traineeships brought to the lab. The trainees always wanted to learn new skills and were always eager to help in the field and lab."
“As an iUTAH trainee I was responsible for installing, maintaining, calibrating and troubleshooting a wide variety of environmental sensors and equipment,” said Brett Boyer, trainee from 2015 – 2017. “I grew confident that with time and effort I could become an expert on a given piece of equipment and use my knowledge to solve any issues that might come up. I also worked on a challenging project developing a self-contained sensing and datalogging system that greatly increased my programming and troubleshooting experience.” These skills helped Boyer secure a position as a control systems engineer, working with heavy electrical equipment and programming controllers for a gold mining project in Mexico.
The iUTAH traineeship has involved 31 students to-date, many of whom are now employed in water-related technical fields, or continued their educations in graduate school both in Utah and neighboring states. These students benefited from access to iUTAH's diverse range of research and cross-institutional collaboration.