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UW Continues Partnership with HBCUs through Watershed Modeling Course

June 13, 2014
Studends conducting field test
Undergraduate students from Jackson State University observe a rainfall simulator test during last year’s watershed modeling course. Students from the historically black university, as well as students from EPSCoR schools, are slated to attend this year’s workshop at UW June 16-20.

For the second consecutive year, undergraduate students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) will have the opportunity to learn about watershed modeling during a one-week course at the University of Wyoming.

Fred Ogden, a UW professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, and Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, will host the course Monday, June 16, through Friday, June 20. Ogden will co-teach the course with Chuck Downer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The course is intended for those interested in in flooding, the effects of landscape changes on hydrology, and/or analyzing best management practices.

“You don’t have to be an expert to set up the models,” says Ogden, also UW’s Cline Distinguished Chair of Engineering, Environment and Natural Resources. “We’re just dipping their toes in the water.”

Attendees will gain a working knowledge of the premier spatial hydrology tools; will understand how, when and why you might be able to apply the tools to specific studies; and understand input data requirements.

To do so, students will use a Gridded Surface/Subsurface Hydrologic Analysis model (GSSHA), which was developed by Ogden and Downer, who works for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.; as well as a Watershed Modeling System (WMS) developed by Aquaveo LLC. GSSHA can be used for a variety of engineering computation and design issues, such as flood simulation, hydrologic impacts of land-use change, and best management practice design and location. GSSHA also is used by the Army Corps of Engineers to predict flooding from hurricane landfall, and was used to accurately predict the flooding of the New York City subway system during the landfall of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

It would be impossible to create these models by hand, Ogden says. Rather, the computer model is set up so that particular parameters -- such as soil type or sedimentation -- can be input and run by the model.

Last year, students conducted their research in Ogden’s backyard. This time, students will trek to Vedauwoo. Using a rainfall simulator, students will observe how runoff is produced and collect data on how rainwater enters soil.

“We’ll spend a day in God’s country and watch the water flow into the sand,” Ogden says. “They will visualize where the water is going when it infiltrates the soil. They’ll see if it flows vertical or horizontal.”

When students return to campus, they will input their collected data in the model to create flood simulations.

The course, offered through the EPSCoR Track II CI-WATER Project sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), allows UW to continue to foster its partnership with Jackson State University (JSU), an HBCU school that sent students to last year’s watershed modeling course and two this year. In addition, this year’s attendees include: two students from the University of Hawaii (an NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) school; one from Colorado State University; a professor from King Faud University in Saudi Arabia; an assistant professor of geological sciences from the University of Alabama (another EPSCoR school); and a professor of civil engineering from Auburn University.

“We accepted applications until the beginning of May from HBCU students and, once they were chosen, opened remaining seats to other university students,” says Beth Cable, outreach and diversity project coordinator with Wyoming NSF EPSCoR. “The two students attending from Hawaii are Hawaii EPSCoR students. We also have some Army Corps folks attending, so it will be an interesting mix.”

During their stay, undergraduate students will live in Crane Hall. Each will receive a $250 stipend and travel reimbursement. Graduate students pay their own way.

“This (EPSCoR) helps states that don’t receive their share of federal research pie dollars compared to other states,” Ogden says. “This also helps us recruit students from HBCU schools.”

He adds, “Jackson State is only an hour away from Vicksburg. Maybe we can get those students in contact with the Army Corps and maybe help them get a job.”

In addition to last summer’s watershed modeling class, eight other JSU students visited campus last June. The earth system science majors spent two weeks studying the hydrology, ecology and geology of the Snowy and Laramie ranges. The visiting students paired up for the research with a mix of eight UW undergraduate and graduate students majoring in ecosystem science, hydrology, botany and geography.

The collaborative field course was part of the outreach component of another grant -- a five-year, $20 million award from NSF to Wyoming EPSCoR. The grant, the largest in UW’s 128-year history, provides for new physical and intellectual infrastructure that enables a comprehensive research program that links surface and subsurface watershed hydrology, geophysics, remote sensing and computational modeling.

One of NSF’s goals for the EPSCoR grant is to find ways to increase diversity in universities that NSF works with. As a result, UW paired with JSU, the only HBCU that currently offers a degree in earth systems science.

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