MPH student samples water quality

MPH candidate Rebecca Patterson filters water over catridges which allow CONSERVE research collaborators to accurately quantify pathogens present in reclaimed water. 

September 4, 2018

As population growth and climate change burden our global food, energy and water systems, scientists, engineers and policy experts must work together to develop solutions that ensure food, energy and water security for future generations. Such solutions require cross-cutting, transformative science and policy discoveries, and the leadership to envision and implement them.

To address these challenges, the University of Maryland has received $3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship (NRT) program to establish a new graduate training and research program aimed at creating innovative and sustainable solutions for global food, energy and water systems. The Global STEWARDS (STEM Training at the Nexus of Energy, WAter Reuse and FooD Systems) program, led by Principal Investigator Amy R. Sapkota, Professor in the School of Public Health, will enable UMD to recruit and train more than 60 future leaders from doctoral programs in the life sciences, earth system sciences, engineering and computational sciences, natural resource management, and energy and environmental policy. These trainees will work closely with faculty mentors throughout at least five schools and colleges including: the School of Public Health, the A. James Clark School of Engineering, the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the School of Public Policy.

“Our fundamental goal is to train leaders who will be adept at working and communicating across diverse disciplines. These transdisciplinary skills are essential for translating research discoveries into actionable science, thereby ensuring safe and sustainable food, energy and water systems into the future” says Dr. Sapkota, who is in the SPH’s Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “Our hope is that UMD Global STEWARDS, many of whom will be women and underrepresented minorities, will emerge from the program as well-balanced, life-long learners, stellar science communicators and distinctive professionals who are poised to carry out transformative team science across an array of career settings.”

The $3 million award to the University of Maryland is one of 17 projects that the NSF NRT awarded, totaling $51 million, to develop and implement graduate education traineeship models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. It is the third NRT award to UMD, in addition to one for Computation and Mathematics for Biological Networks (COMBINE) and one for Language Science.

The model for Global STEWARDS builds upon and expands the approach developed by Dr. Sapkota and colleagues for the CONSERVE Scholars program. As PI of the USDA-funded CONSERVE project (a Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food & Health) since 2016, she has built a research-oriented, experiential STEM graduate training program to mentor the next generation of leaders engaged in developing systems that enable the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water on food crops.

Some of the Global STEWARDS will work as part of the CONSERVE team, while others will support related research led by other UMD experts. 

UMD Global STEWARDS will be exposed to a range of topics in three integrated FEW research areas: 1) Agricultural resilience through energy-efficient water reuse; 2) Food safety and security in variable climate scenarios; and 3) Decision support systems to advance food-energy-water adaptation strategies.

At least half of the doctoral students selected for the Global STEWARDS fellowship will receive full stipends to support their education and research and all will benefit from one or more aspects of the NRT program.

The program consists of five interdisciplinary elements, including experiential coursework; intensive, annual, two-week workshops; a domestic internship based in a non-academic setting; a summer trip to work with partner organizations in Israel or Nepal; and involvement in food, energy and water-related outreach, education and mentoring. To enhance the mentoring and leadership skills of UMD Global STEWARDs, trainees will be paired with undergraduate student mentees, with the goal of expanding the pipeline of STEM researchers from underrepresented backgrounds.

Communication and professional development activities will be woven throughout the NRT elements, and trainees will take ownership in the program by participating in student-led committees and annual symposia.

Details about the application process will be forthcoming.

Global STEWARDS leadership team 

Principal Investigator
Professor Amy R. Sapkota (SPH, Applied Environmental Health)

Co-Principal Investigators
Research Associate Professor Gili Marbach-Ad (CMNS)
Professor Allen Davis (ENGR), Charles A. Irish Sr. Chair in Civil Engineering
Associate Professor Nathan Hultman (SPP), Director, Center for Global Sustainability
Professor Xin-Zhong Liang (CMNS, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science)
Professor Jianghong Meng (AGNR), Director of Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)
Associate Professor Shirley Micallef (AGNR, Plant Sciences and Landscape Architecture)
Professor Mihai Pop (CMNS, Computer Science)
Associate Professor Amir Sapkota (SPH, Applied Environmental Health)

Related Links

New NSF Research Traineeship awards aim to transform approaches to STEM graduate education

CONSERVE: a center of excellence at the nexus of sustainable water re-use, food and health

Related People
Amy R. Sapkota, Amir Sapkota