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HSI Graduate Fellowship Program

Sustainability graduate students wanted

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.

In the Fall of each year, faculty submit proposals for projects that would benefit from graduate student research assistance. In the Spring of each year, students apply to work on the selected research projects and support HSI’s wider sustainability programming in developing leaders for a just future, catalyzing campus transformation and engaging communities beyond campus.

Fellows are expected to dedicate 10 hour per week to support the faculty research project and another 10 hours per week to support this wider programming, and HSI provides a stipend on par with others in their degree program plus a tuition waiver to cover up to 15 credits per year. 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

Applications from faculty interested in mentoring a fellow during the 2023-24 academic year should submit their proposal here by Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. 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 together with faculty mentors, HSI will promote these opportunities across the many professional societies that support interdisciplinary sustainability research. Prospective fellows for the 2023-24 academic year should submit their application here by Jan. 31, 2023. 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 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). 


Research projects from the 2022-23 cycle

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 or 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.

This 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 for water purification using state-of-the-art instrumentation. 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.

This work will follow 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 HSI fellow will have experience with wet chemistry techniques and analytical instrumentation and follow laboratory safety protocols. Candidates will also exhibit strong organization, project and time management, excellent oral and written technical communication, problem-solving, curiosity, and teamwork skills. Students may apply to any graduate STEM program at UD, but preferred applicants are encouraged to consider Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, or Bioengineering.


Mentor: Roger Reeb (Department of Psychology)

The Project builds on a decade-long implementation of behavioral activation (evidence-based practice) to provide residents at a homeless shelter (Dayton, Ohio) with opportunities to engage in productive activities that yield response-contingent reinforcement (feeling of reward), which improves their productive behavior, sense of mastery, mood, and cognition.  Research outcomes include improvements in (a) psychosocial functioning of residents and (b) civic-related development in undergraduate assistants.

In collaboration with The Ohio State University Extension (Montgomery County, Ohio), a Shelter Farm was established at the Gettysburg Gateway Shelter for Men (food desert location) to enhance shelter nutrition.  Preliminary research indicated decreased anxiety for shelter residents who volunteered on the Shelter Farm. 

We plan to expand the Shelter Farm (and utilize hoop houses) to extend the harvesting season, which could further enhance shelter nutrition as well as facilitate additional research, such as examining (a) civic-related outcomes (e.g., environmental attitudes, self-efficacy to advocate for sustainability) in undergraduates assisting on the Shelter Farm; and (b) benefits (physical and mental health, vocational development) for shelter residents volunteering on the Shelter Farm.  In addition to assisting with the above work, the Graduate Fellow will continue the behavioral activation inside the shelter to enhance residents’ psychological functioning, contribute to sustainability education on campus, and assist in expanding our network of community partners.  Research is expected to yield professional conference presentations and/or publications in journals related to community psychology or experiential learning.  Students may apply to any graduate program at UD.


Mentor: Chelse Prather (Department of Biology)

Urban ecology has been showing that urban environments are not biological deserts: there are suites of species that are well-suited to live in cities. To ameliorate the negative effects that cities might have on the environment, and in some cases, to help ameliorate inequalities that exist in cities, governments, private companies, and NGO’s are doing things like using green infrastructure (e.g., green roofs), and developing vacant as habitat (e.g., prairie restorations) or for use as urban farms.The MS student funded by HSI for this project would work on better understanding the insect communities that live in these urban areas by using Dayton and neighboring cities (like Columbus and Cincinnati) to look at how these sustainable practices in cities affect these higher trophic levels. Student's in Dr. Prather's lab can develop their thesis questions based on their individual interests, but a thesis might answer one of the following questions: Do insect communities on green roofs differ from insect communities in other green spaces in cities? Are more sustainable urban farms attracting a diverse native pollinator community? Can insect restoration in constructed prairies in urban areas be sped up?


Mentor: Raúl Ordóñez (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Will we ever be able to stop using and abusing the Earth’s resources until they are gone? Can we stop burning coal, eating beef, depleting fisheries, burning forests, pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere that climate change continues unabated? What can we do to stop these trends, to achieve real change? 

This project explores all these questions under the umbrella of a problem known as the “Tragedy of the Commons” (TOC). The problem addresses a renewable resource (the Commons, e.g., fresh water, fisheries, forests, clean air, etc.) subject to human use. When the resource usage is too high, the resource inevitably crashes, either temporarily or permanently, which in turn robs the human population dependent on it of its capacity to thrive. The problem is called a “tragedy” because no single human user wants the resource to collapse and all users depend on the resource’s health. However, all the individual short-sighted self-interest and lack of cooperation end up aggregating and harming everyone, particularly hurting vulnerable populations. 

The TOC problem plays a large role in helping us understand and achieve sustainability and sustainable development. Mathematical models of the TOC exist, but there is a clear need to improve the quality of these models and to apply them using any available real-world data. In this project, you will:

  1. Perform an extensive study of the literature to find all relevant available research in mathematical modeling of the TOC problem.
  2. Develop more sophisticated models with enhanced predictive power, and apply them to available real-world cases.
  3. Research policies that could help prevent or ameliorate the occurrence of the TOC via mathematical analysis using nonlinear systems theory. The focus will be on policies that promote social and environmental justice.

Mentor: Denise Taylor (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)

This project is centered on the next steps in the development of a business waste assessment program, to complement UD’s energy-focused Industrial Assessment Center. This program’s major goals are to develop and provide assessment skills for industrial solid wastes, expand opportunities for student experiential learning, and strengthen partnerships with regional solid waste districts. 

Depending on the successful candidate’s interests, the work would include a combination of revising assessment methodology; conducting informational research on local practices and other options for reduction of waste generation or alternative options for final fate; participating in at least one business assessment; or initiating a risk/benefit-assessment approach to site ranking tool, as a method of selecting future areas of waste management education potentially providing the most diversion for a solid waste district. 

This project is expected to lead to publications in journals such as Solid Waste Technology and Management and Resources, Conservation, and Recycling. This HSI Graduate Fellow would also engage with HSI and UD’s Facilities Management team on campus waste reduction planning and efforts. 

Students may apply to any graduate program at UD, but are encouraged to consider Civil/Environmental Engineering, Engineering Management, or Mechanical Engineering.


Graduate Student Success Stories
Sustainability 09.29.20

Hanley Sustainability Institute graduate assistant Jack Rees was part of a team that used temperature setbacks in most UD buildings this past summer to save energy. Along the way, he and UD energy efficiency and renewable energy manager Matthew Worsham learned things about the building systems that have made them more operate more efficiently.

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Sustainability 10.07.20

Hanley Sustainability Institute graduate assistants Lauren Wolford and Meg Maloney are leading the University of Dayton’s resilience assessment as part of UD’s Second Nature climate commitment to plan for climate resilience. They talked to 50-60 community stakeholders about resilience planning in and around Dayton. “Because of what we’re all currently living in, it was really easy to have these conversations specifically around the pandemic,” Wolford said. “It was inspiring to hear from different organizations.”

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Sustainability 09.18.20

City of Dayton Sustainability Manager Mark Charles prefers the term sustainability specialist when it comes to Meg Maloney, a Hanley Sustainability Institute graduate assistant who is working with the city. “She’s not just following me around,” Charles said. “She’s actually got her own responsibilities and activities. She helped me with the final touches on the overall sustainability strategy.”

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Sustainability 09.09.20

Before University of Dayton students migrated back to campus during a pandemic, Hanley Sustainability Institute graduate assistant Christopher Baldasare saw the need for more composting. “With the emphasis on not going out, I expect more students to be cooking in their residences,” Baldasare said. “This will also give us a chance to pilot online composting education, which was planned in the spring to potentially expand the composting program by making it easier to reach all students that would want to participate.”

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