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Hanley Sustainability Institute

HSI Graduate Fellowship Program

The Hanley Sustainability Institute coordinates a graduate fellowship program to encourage and support faculty scholarship in sustainability and to attract high-quality students with sustainability interests to UD. Graduate fellows advance interdisciplinary research across the university, help to catalyze a more sustainable campus and engage communities in the region and beyond in collective efforts for a just and sustainable future.

In the Fall of each year, faculty submit proposals for projects that would benefit from graduate student research assistance. The institute prioritizes projects that advance our wider mission, for instance by partnering with conservation organizations and other community partners, or by collaborating with staff on campus to support more sustainable operations at the university.

In the Spring of each year, students apply to work on the selected research projects and support HSI’s wider sustainability programming. Fellows receive a competitive stipend, tuition, travel support and additional benefits.

Fellowships are awarded on a one-year basis but can be renewed for one additional year provided that the student is succeeding across their various responsibilities.

Application process for faculty and students

The application date from faculty interested in mentoring a fellow during the 2024-25 academic year has passed. Please check back for the next cycle. Proposals should explain the research question guiding the study, the methods that will used in answering that question, and the practical and theoretical significance that those answers promise. You should also detail the role that the graduate fellow would play in the research and how their involvement could contribute to their intellectual and professional development. Proposals will be selected based on their resonance with HSI’s strategic plan, which prioritizes research that deeply engages the community, brings together different disciplines and develops innovative frameworks for investigating sustainability; additionally, we give weight to projects that generate meaningful research experience for fellows by involving them in multiples phases of research and including fellows as co-authors of publications and presentations within the typical two-year duration of their graduate programs.


Faculty Application

Students can find the upcoming year’s fellowship opportunities in December, and should email faculty mentors through the links below for more information about particular positions. Prospective fellows for the 2024-25 academic year should submit their application here by Jan. 31, 2024. Applicants should include a one-page cover letter describing their interests in and qualifications for one of the research opportunities, their current curriculum vitae or resume and an unofficial transcript. Note that receiving a fellowship is conditional upon earning acceptance into a graduate program at UD, and that students must apply separately to those programs for consideration. 


Student Application

Research projects promoted for the 2024-25 cycle

Mentors: Rydge Mulford (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), Andrew Schrader (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and Chelse Prather (Biology)

Although the design of a photovoltaic panel (PV panel) array appears simple, there are actually many design principles required to ensure a fully functional PV array which maximizes power production. Two of the most important variables are the tilt angle and azimuth angle of the panels in the array. The current “state of the art” rule of thumb regarding panel tilt angle selection is to select a tilt angle equivalent to the longitudinal angle of the panel. However, this rule of thumb neglects several important impacts. Using PV modeling software, updated optimized tilt angles have been calculated, with optimized tilt angles differing by up to 10 degrees from the state of the art suggested tilt angles. However, experimental determination of an ideal tilt angle is lacking in the literature. Further, the influence of these panels on the biological life surrounding them is not well documented.

For this project, we will complete a long term PV panel tilt angle experimental validation utilizing the newly constructed “On Sun Solar Facility” on the south side of KL. A small array of PV panels will be erected on the pad of the solar facility, with half of the panels oriented at the optimal tilt angle and half of the panels oriented at the state of the art tilt angle. After a sufficient time, the performance of the two arrays will be compared. During these tests the temperature of the environment immediately surrounding the panel will be directly monitored in order to explore the impact on small mammals, birds and insects of the two different tilt angles.

Students planning to enroll in any graduate program at the University of Dayton are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship.


Mentors: Chia-Yu Wu (Geology and Environmental Geosciences) and Donald Chase (Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Mechanics)

Flooding is one of the most devastating hydro-meteorological disasters known to humankind, and southwestern Ohio, particularly the city of Dayton, has experienced flood events. Recent climate models further indicate the escalation in temperature is expected to lead to an increased occurrence of flood events. Therefore, it is pivotal to understand spatial distribution of flood vulnerable area according to the recent climate change projections. In addition, the lingering effect of historical redlining policies in the Dayton metropolitan area has shaped its current demographic distribution; a higher concentration of underserved minorities residing in the Northwestern Dayton adjacent to the Great Miami River. This raises concerns about flood vulnerability and potential environmental justice issues. Therefore, my current study aims to: 1) construct flood exposure in our study area according to the impact of climate change, and 2) to estimate a Social Vulnerability Index by considering various socioeconomic, racial, and demographic factors.

The HSI Graduate Fellow will join a multi-disciplinary of researchers collaborating on understanding the link between flood exposure and social vulnerability. The research project involves an innovative approach that models both local hydrology and socioeconomic factors, we will also engage community members to design the solutions to make our community become more resilient and protectant of all in the face of climate change. The HSI fellow will receive mentorship from faculty and conduct modelling works by using software of ArcGIS, HEC-RAS, HEC-HMS and R language. The research outcome will be disseminated through peer-reviewed journal articles and presented at conferences. The successful candidate should have a background in geography, sustainability, geology or civil engineering; experience in using ArcGIS and HEC-RAS models is highly desirable. The candidate should also have excellent oral and written communication skills, attention to detail, effective teamwork, and time management skills. The HSI graduate students should apply to the master program in Interdisciplinary Studies offered in the College of Arts and Sciences or Civil and Environmental Engineering offered in the School of Engineering.

Students planning to enroll in a graduate degree program in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies or Civil Engineering are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship.


Mentor: Mariela Gantchoff (Biology)

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy will play a crucial role in decreasing environmental pollution, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, by providing a clean and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. However, it is essential to acknowledge that while renewable energy represents a significant step towards environmental sustainability, we do not yet fully understand their interactions with wildlife composition and diversity and the impacts of renewable energy (like solar farms) on vertebrate species is still a growing and active area of research. The MS student funded by HSI for this project would work on conducting wildlife surveys in the Great Miami Valley area within three categories of sites: active solar sites, potential solar sites (e.g. urban empty or abandoned lots) and natural areas. The student could develop research questions such as: Does mammal richness (i.e. number of species) and diversity (i.e. variety of species) differ among the different categories of sites? Are bats affected by solar developments? Is wildlife-friendly fencing effective in allowing wildlife to utilize these areas? To achieve this, we will use wildlife cameras and acoustic monitors to document terrestrial and aerial mammals, quantifying their richness and diversity. The MS student's involvement in this project will be multi-faceted, encompassing survey design, stakeholder engagement, logistical management, data collection, analysis, and the subsequent dissemination of research findings in the form of scientific articles and conference presentations. This information should provide vital information to local stakeholders & guide decisions related to site selection, design, and ongoing management, providing valuable insights in their decision-making processes.

Students planning to enroll in University of Dayton’s Masters of Biology program are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship.


Mentors: Sarah McKnight (Geology and Environmental Geosciences), Chris Sheehan (Geology and Environmental Geosciences) and Chia-Yu Wu (Geology and Environmental Geosciences)

Understanding groundwater flow through rock and sediment with different structural properties, otherwise known as hydrostratigraphy, is key for understanding groundwater discharge. However, the influence of flow on groundwater-surface water interactions remains unconstrained in understudied arid environments, despite a documented range in groundwater flow properties in such aquifers. Lithium-bearing aquifers in arid and endorheic basins are crucial mining sites for the development of lithium-ion batteries as part of the “green revolution.” Yet, concerns increasingly emerge over the impact of mining-related groundwater extraction on ecosystem-critical lakes, since groundwater extraction could diminish inflow to such lakes.

Thus, this work endeavors to answer the question: How does hydrostratigraphy control groundwater flow and discharge patterns? The successful applicant to the fellowship will conduct a series of models in the simulation code known as MODFLOW to investigate discharge dynamics under the various hydrostratigraphic conditions observed in arid and endorheic basins. Through a set of statistically randomized but geologically realistic distributions of hydrostratigraphy, the fellow will demonstrate the structural conditions required to produce the distribution of discharge commonly observed in these types of environments, along with projections of how groundwater flow and discharge would vary from possible changes in recharge and groundwater pumping. Findings from this work would provide an enhanced perspective for policy-makers and stakeholders interested in conserving the fragile ecosystems associated with lakes in arid climates and would further inform those who are interested in evaluating impacts from the consumption of lithium in the process of advancing the “green revolution.”

Students planning to enroll in any graduate program at the University of Dayton are eligible to apply for this nine-month fellowship.


Mentor: Danielle Julita Quichocho (Communication)

Public relations (PR) firms that conduct activities such as developing campaigns and earning the attention of media outlets, and bringing stakeholders together in conversation can be effective in helping organizations work towards their environmental initiatives. However, it is important to disrupt the western-centric history, theory, and practice of PR to question who has political, social and economic power in regards to making environmental decisions for marginalized people. Examining PR from this decolonial perspective can help bring important, often-ignored voices to the tables where environmental decisions are being made.

An HSI fellow involved in this social science research would therefore help develop useful criteria for what qualifies as an “environmentally just” organization in the Dayton area, conduct interviews with communication professionals within that organization to understand its environmental work (e.g. who are the important publics, how does messaging frame environmentalism), and examine the organization’s messages. Findings for this work would help make specific and strategic recommendations for an organization’s environmental communication, as well as enhance understanding of how decoloniality can be a fruitful perspective for communication research. Skills a graduate student would gain include working with a community partner towards environmental good, writing interview guides, conducting and analyzing related data, synthesizing broader patterns of communication in a given context, and recognizing how our construction of the environment in messaging can hold power for making productive changes (e.g. addressing climate change via policy).

Students planning to enroll in any graduate program at the University of Dayton are eligible to apply, and should indicate in their cover letter whether they would prefer a nine- or 12-month fellowship. Applicants are encouraged to consider an M.A. in Communications or Masters of Public Administration.


Mentors: Chris Sheehan (Geology and Environmental Geosciences), Chia-Yu Wu (Geology and Environmental Geosciences) and Sarah McKnight (Geology and Environmental Geosciences)

Humans have a massive impact on sediment moving through river and stream channels. Anthropogenic activities such as land use change and climate change alter the hydraulic and erosional characteristics of these channels, disturbing their natural balance of water and sediment. Over the next several years, forests and fields surrounding metropolitan Dayton will be converted to new houses by land developers. These changes may induce erosion and other geomorphic effects, negatively impacting both riverine ecosystems and local communities across southwestern Ohio.

The HSI Graduate Fellow will join a research team that aims to quantify the effects of land development on sediment in stream channels across the greater Dayton area. The research project integrates field data collection and computer modeling to monitor erosional changes in stream channels before, during, and after the onset of construction on nearby land. The HSI Fellow will receive mentorship and training to (1) Construct a record of 20th century land use change for each field site using historical imagery and GIS; (2) Conduct field surveys using GPS, environmental data loggers, and photogrammetry; and (3) Create, organize, and maintain a database to store the field data. The HSI fellow is also encouraged to expand the project, particularly in multidisciplinary directions that focus on river ecology and biodiversity. The project outcomes will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals and national conferences.

Students planning to enroll in a graduate degree program in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship.


Mentor: Maggie Hantak (Biology) and Ryan Reihart (Biology)

Urbanization poses a rapid, unprecedented, threat to biological diversity at a global scale. Amphibians are particularly susceptible to the effects of urbanization as most species have limited dispersal capabilities, complex life cycles, and much of their oxygen uptake occurs through absorption across their skin. Thus, amphibians have been widely considered bioindicators of habitat health and their presence or absence and traits such as body condition and genetic diversity across human-modified landscapes can provide pertinent baseline information on ecosystem health and determine whether habitat management strategies need to take place. The HSI masters fellow will study how urbanization around the Dayton area has altered the distribution and traits of the Blanchard’s Cricket Frog (Acris blanchardi), which is listed as a species of concern in the state of Ohio. The masters student will gain experience with field work, testing water quality, collecting morphological measurements of frogs and genetic techniques and analysis. The student will also work with Dayton MetroParks community partners to manage Cricket Frog habitat based on the outcomes of this project. Expected professional outcomes include conference presentations and a peer-reviewed paper in a relevant ecology journal.

Students planning to enroll in any graduate program at the University of Dayton are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship. Applicants are encouraged to consider an M.S. in Biology.


Mentor: Ben Hazen (Management Information Systems, Operations and Supply Chain Management, and Business Analytics) 

“Procurement for the Common Good” is an ongoing initiative from University of Dayton’s Office of Procurement and Payable Services. Ultimately, we seek to improve how academic institutions in general and UD in particular, can develop a more sustainability-focused supplier base while incorporating emerging best practices for sustainable purchasing. The goal is to provide visual cues in advance of purchase and visual feedback after purchase to indicate to the requestor how much they advanced the common good. Some data is known today though not available to institutional buyers but much of the data needed to make a balanced decision is unavailable or limited to specific supply chains. 

The student will conduct literature reviews, surveys and interviews to build and validate a theoretical framework. Then, they will use these insights to inform the development of a practical analytics application that will help purchasing professionals incorporate salient aspects of sustainability into purchasing decisions. The successful candidate with have a keen interest in sustainable business practices and strong data analysis capabilities. Candidates from all backgrounds and experiences are welcome. Preferred programs for the HSI Graduate Fellow include the School of Business’ Master of Science in Business Analytics (MBAN) program and the Master of Science program in interdisciplinary studies offered in the College of Arts and Sciences. However, other program options can be considered.  

Students planning to enroll in any graduate program at the University of Dayton are eligible to apply, and should indicate in their cover letter whether they would prefer a nine- or 12-month fellowship.


Mentor: Felix Fernando (Sustainability)

The aim of this project is to examine how cities have updated their zoning ordinances to infuse sustainability so that City of Dayton could adopt evidence based best practices to update the city’s zoning ordinances and subsequently advance city’s sustainability efforts. Making the zoning code sustainability focused is a key prerequisite for making a city sustainable. Research on how to make zoning ordinances conducive for sustainability is sparse. However, there are lessons to be gathered from cities that have already adopted innovative zoning ordinances.

The HSI Graduate Fellow would have the opportunity to do innovative cutting-edge research in urban planning and urban sustainability that could only become increasingly critical as cities try to become more sustainable. The graduate fellow would be involved in all stages of the research project from identifying potential cities/sustainability practices, to interviewing, data analysis and preparing output documents. The graduate fellow would have the opportunity to learn about some of the most innovative urban sustainability practices and would have the opportunity to interview pioneering urban planners and city administrators. The successful candidate should have a background in a field broadly related to sustainability with some knowledge on urban sustainability and/or urban planning. Familiarity with qualitative methods and data analysis skills are highly desirable. The candidate should also have excellent oral and written communication skills, attention to detail and time management skills. 

Students planning to enroll in University of Dayton’s Masters of Science in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies are eligible to apply for this 12-month fellowship.


Research projects promoted for the 2023-24 cycle

Mentors: Zelalem Bedaso (Geology and Environmental Geosciences) and Shuang-Ye Wu (Geology and Environmental Geosciences)

Climate change has a remarkable effect on the hydrologic cycle changing the distribution, pattern, and amount of precipitation which in turn impact the availability of water resources. In recent decades, in eastern Africa, the occurrences of severe drought have led to devastating socio-economic consequences and highlighted the importance of groundwater water resources in the region. Thus, assessing the sustainability of groundwater under the changing climate regime is of great significance for enhancing climate change adaptation and sustainable development.  

The HSI Graduate Fellow will join a multi-disciplinary and international team of researchers collaborating on understanding the link between regional climate patterns and water supply in eastern Africa. The research project involves an innovative approach that integrates isotope geochemistry/hydrology and climate modeling to investigate how groundwater recharge changes in the future. While contributing to the project's overall goal, the HSI fellow will be fully involved in defining their thesis project and designing specific research questions and methodologies. The HSI fellow will receive mentorship from two faculty and conduct fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and use climate models to project the future sustainability of water resources in eastern Africa. The research outcome will be disseminated through peer-reviewed journal articles and presented at national or international conferences.

The successful candidate should have a background in physical sciences and experience in environmental data collection and analysis. Quantitative analytical and modeling skills are highly desirable. The candidate should also have excellent oral and written communication skills, attention to detail, effective teamwork, and time management skills. The HSI Graduate Fellow should apply to the Master of Science program in interdisciplinary studies offered in the College of Arts and Sciences.


Mentor: Jennifer Hellmann (Department of Biology)

Humans are profoundly affecting the global abundance and distribution of organisms in freshwater habitats due to the introduction of contaminants and toxins as well as modifications to habitat and watershed hydrology. While macroinvertebrates have been traditionally used as bioindicators of stream health, fish can provide extensive information on community health because they occupy multiple trophic levels and we can simultaneously assess both acute toxicity (via missing taxa) and chronic stress (via slower growth and lower reproductive success). The masters student funded by HSI will work to sample existing references sites to measure the diversity of fish assemblages as well as traits that reflect chronic stress in those populations. These markers of stress are critical to predicting which populations might be showing early signs of declining watershed health, and we can link these markers of stress to current knowledge about each reference site to predict factors that are associated with healthy biological communities. The student would gain experience with field work, processing samples in the lab, and working with community partners at the City of Dayton and at the Department of Natural Resources. Research is expected to yield professional conference presentations and/or publications in ecology-oriented journals. Students may apply to any graduate program at UD, but are encouraged to consider Biology.


Mentors: Erick Vasquez (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering), Garry Crosson (Department of Chemistry), Kenya Crosson (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Mechanics)

Two of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals include clean water and sanitation and climate action, which are of significant relevance to communities, industries, and government entities. Likewise, the US Environmental Protection Agency defined twelve principles for green chemistry, emphasizing preventing waste, using degradable chemicals, and using renewable feedstocks.  Thus, access to clean water is a critical aspect of sustainable development that fosters human health and well-being, a healthy environment and climate, and equity and socio-economic progress.

The HSI Graduate Fellow will join a multi-disciplinary research team collaborating on a sustainable, environmental chemistry and engineering research project.  Research will involve synthesizing and characterizing nanocomposites from renewable feedstocks and assessing their performance of the produced nanocomposites for water purification using advanced analytical techniques. The fellow will receive mentorship from three diverse faculty and conduct research in laboratories within the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The HSI fellow will employ sustainable research practices, while integrating and promoting sustainability for the common good.  The HSI fellow’s research will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at local or national technical conferences related to materials engineering, water and wastewater treatment, and/or environmental technology. 

The successful candidate will have experience with wet chemistry lab techniques, lab safety, writing and editing, and data analysis and project management.  Candidates will exhibit strong organization, time management, oral and written communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.  Students may apply to any graduate STEM program at UD, but preferred applicants are encouraged to consider Chemical Engineering, Materials Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, or Bioengineering.


Mentors: Hui Wang (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Mechanics), Bradley Ratliff (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Kevin Hallinan (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) 

Inspecting and taking effective measures to maintain the energy and structural performance of a building/infrastructure during its lifetime is a national concern that affects social and economic development. On the energy consumption side, the buildings sector accounts for about 76% of electricity use and 40% of all U.S. primary energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Heat transfer and air leaks through cracks account for about 40% of energy lost. Relative to structural integrity, many of the country's roads, bridges, airports, dams, levees and water systems are aging and in poor to mediocre condition. In this context, effective inspection is critical for US infrastructure maintenance. We see infrared (IR) thermography technique and 3D reconstruction together with VR visualization can contribute to addressing these problems. In this project, we focus on how to effectively and efficiently fuse 3D point clouds constructed from images collected by a regular camera and corresponding thermal images from a co-calibrated microbolometer. Such efforts are at the cutting-edge and essential since a low-cost, accurate, and portable 3D thermal reconstruction solution has high potential to be applied to both building energy auditing and infrastructure inspection/maintenance.

The HSI research fellow will receive research training on both theory and hands-on experiences in computer vision and photogrammetry, improve his/her coding capability and software development skills, and enhance his/her logical and critical thinking, be independent and have the ability to start their own research and conduct life-long learning on their own, and have opportunities to participate in conferences and publish original research in ASCE and ISPRS Journals. Current or prospective students from Electrical or civil engineering master's or Ph.D. programs are preferred/required as the research scope is technical and the performance period is limited (one year and expected to be extended into another year).