Undergraduate Water Science Communication Scholars Program

Engagement developers at UNM:

  • Grand Challenges Sustainable Water Resources Team.
  • Anjali Mulchandani, Assistant Professor, Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering.
  • Sydney Donohue, Outreach Coordinator, UNM Center for Water and the Environment.
  • Alex Webster, Assistant Research Professor, Biology.

Type of engagement: Undergraduate Fellowship, Cohort-Based

Length of engagement: One semester

Primary participants: Undergraduate students at UNM.  Students were selected to participate in two tracks: students new to research, and students who are already conducting research.  Students could be in any academic level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) and from any academic discipline.

Participant pre-requisites: Degree-seeking undergraduate students at UNM; Interest in sustainable water resource development

Brief description of engagement: 

Students worked with faculty mentors to communicate environmental research to the general public.  The research presented could be either the student’s original research, or the research of their faculty mentor.  Students selected their own communications venues (for instance, essay, podcast or video) and worked together as a cohort to develop and refine their individual projects.  Projects were then presented at the UNM Undergraduate Research Opportunities Conference (UROC), and posted on two UNM websites.

Full description of engagement:

Program coordinators recruited faculty mentors through email listservs and professional networks, and completed an online form that included name, department, and brief Summary of research.

Students were recruited via email distribution lists and through faculty/staff networking.  Students completed an online application which included a brief statement of interest.  Students also reviewed faculty mentor information, and ranked the faculty they most wanted to engage with.  Program coordinators then matched students one-to-one to individual faculty researchers.

Students attended an orientation at the first cohort meeting, where they were introduced to the program, participated in icebreaker, and reviewed semester schedule of events and deadlines.  Students did not meet individually with program coordinators.  Students began meeting individually with their mentors following the first cohort meeting.  The frequency and duration of individual meetings with mentors varied considerably by mentoring pairs.  Some mentors referred their mentees to additional experts to gather additional information or receive additional mentoring.

A suggestion for future cohorts will be to further structure the mentoring relationship by requiring the mentoring pairs to meet at least once every two weeks, for at least an hour per meeting.  Future cohorts will also be given more instructions on how to structure their meetings with their mentors, and what to accomplish during these meetings.  Future mentors and mentees will also receive an introduction to best practices in science communication.

The student cohort met as a group weekly throughout the semester, usually for 30-60 minutes.  During these meetings, students discussed with each other their progress, challenges and plans.  Students drove the content of the meetings.  Program coordinators attended some of the meetings, but most were conducted by students without supervision.

Students presented their finished or near-finished projects at a special Grand Challenges session of the UNM Undergraduate Research Opportunities Conference (UROC).  Some projects were also posted online at https://uradexpo.unm.edu/category/grand-challenges/ and at the Southwest Environmental Finance Center (https://efla.unm.edu/home/learning-academy/).  Future cohorts may add an additional step where students present to program coordinators prior to UROC.

Goals of engagement:

  • Increase student interest and involvement in research, especially among first and second year students.
  • Communicate to the public the scope of water research at UNM
  • Teach students to communicate research for the public
  • Strengthen student identity and efficacy with research
  • Humanize researchers to students
  • Create a culture of inclusion for entry-level undergraduate researchers
  • Create student networks across academic disciplines, focused on research. Include students from academic disciplines where they may not routinely be introduced to water or environmental research.
  • Provide research engagement opportunities for students who are not conducting their own scientific research (for instance, first-year students, artists or musicians).

Number of students engaged: 12 began the program, 10 completed

Key partners and roles:

  • Undergraduate Research, Arts & Design Network (preliminary planning conversations; funding for supplies, materials and poster printing; assistance with UROC session; hosting student projects on urad.unm.edu).
  • Southwest Environmental Finance Center (preliminary planning conversations; provided orientation session at first cohort meeting; hosted student projects on their website).
  • Center for Water and the Environment (in-kind funding for coordinator for the program; provided examples of creative communication materials).
  • Civil Engineering (in-kind funding for coordinator for the program; provided cohort meeting space)
  • Grand Challenges (funded student stipends; provided access to faculty mentors)

Number of UNM faculty engaged: 12 (including mentors and program coordinators)

Number of community members engaged: 10-20

Number of UNM staff and other personnel engaged: 5

Budget summary:

  • Student stipends, $1,000 each
  • Supplies and materials, approximately $500
  • Poster printing, approximately $200
  • Faculty mentors did not receive additional compensation.
  • Program coordinators did not receive additional compensation.

Human resources: time and effort from two coordinators (one faculty, one staff) and 12 faculty researchers/mentors was funded in-kind by their departments.

Facilities and other resources: meeting space for student cohort gatherings, provided by Civil Engineering

Evidence of impact at UNM (if applicable):

Supporting academic literature: None yet available

Resulting publications or presentations (if available):

  • Anjali Mulchandani & Will Crockett. Undergraduate Research Communication Scholarship. University of New Mexico Regents Student Success, Teaching and Research Committee (SSTAR).  May 5, 2022.  Agenda and ebook available at: https://provost.unm.edu/resources/regent-committee-sstar.html
  • Anjali Mulchandani, Alex Webster & Sydney Donohue. UNM Team Research Symposium.  Undergraduate Research Communication Scholarship.  April 19, 2022.

How can other UNM faculty engage with this model?

Adapt the model: create a similar science communications fellowship program specific to their research needs.  For additional information, contact Sydney Donohue (sdonohue@unm.edu).

Participate in the Undergraduate Water Science Communication Scholars Program: provide funding and mentoring for students, who would participate in the spring cohort.  The program can serve a maximum of twenty students.

Collaborate on a new cohort: provide funding and coordination, collaborating with other researchers to piece together a cross-program cohort.  Contact Tim Schroeder at URAD (timschroeder@unm.edu).


Attachments and supporting documentation