Implementing an experiential curricular model to train doctoral students in interdisciplinary research at the food-energy-water nexus: A "how to" approach from the UMD Global STEWARDS National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NSF NRT)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024
9am - 10:30am PT | 10am - 11:30 am MT | 11am - 12:30pm CT | 12pm - 1:30pm ET

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Provenance: Michele Ackerman and Amy Sapkota
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Dr. Amy Sapkota, Professor and Director of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, University of Maryland School of Public Health

Dr. Sapkota is an MPower Professor and Director of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. She is also the Director of CONSERVE: A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food & Health, and the Principal Investigator of the UMD Global STEWARDS (STEM Training at the Nexus of Energy, WAter Reuse and FooD Systems) National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program. Most recently, Dr. Sapkota successfully led a multi-national team in the UMD Grand Challenges Institutional Grant competition and was awarded a new $3 million grant to launch the Global FEWture Alliance.

Dr. Sapkota received a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, an MPH in Environmental Health Sciences from the Yale School of Public Health, and a BS in Biology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She completed her post-doc with the Environmental Microbial Genomics Group at Ecole Centrale de Lyon (Lyon, France). In 2017, she represented the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program and the United States as a Fulbright Senior Researcher in Chitwan, Nepal. Dr. Sapkota's research focuses on ensuring the safety of agricultural and municipal water reuse and understanding the impact of environmental microbial exposures on the human microbiome.


Climate change, population growth, and urbanization are crippling global food, energy, and water (FEW) systems, with low-income communities and people of color bearing the heaviest impacts. These pervasive problems require transformative science, engineering and policy solutions that minimize waste, facilitate reuse and address inequities at the FEW nexus, such that security across these systems can be achieved for all communities. However, the realization of sustainable and equitable FEW solutions can only come about through interdisciplinary training of diverse groups of future scientific leaders.

To address this need, the University of Maryland (UMD) Global STEWARDS (STEM Training at the Nexus of Energy,WAterReuse & FooDSystems) National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) trains students to effectively work and communicate across disciplines to address FEW nexus issues from molecular to societal levels and from local to global scales. Our program prepares students via five interdisciplinary training elements: 1) experiential coursework; 2) professional development workshops; 3) domestic internships; 4) a short-term "Winter Amp" broadening experience in Israel or Nepal; and 5) involvement in FEW-related outreach and mentoring.

In this workshop, I will describe how we implemented our experiential curricular model (training element 1). Our model comprises a two-course sequence that takes place over one calendar year: the first course provides an experiential introduction to broad FEW nexus topics and systems thinking; and the second course is a data practicum. The two courses are linked through an interdisciplinary FEW systems research project conducted in teams of three to four students that begins during the first course in the spring semester and is completed at the end of the second course in the fall semester. Through these interdisciplinary projects, our students gain hands-on interdisciplinary experience in study design, research methods, data analysis, extension/outreach, science communication and/or other methods across varying FEW disciplines. The final project deliverable is an actionable product (e.g., a grant proposal, a manuscript, an Op-Ed, a policy memo, an extension/outreach package, etc.). By the end of the workshop, participants will gain insights into how they can go about launching a similar program at their own institution.