By Martha P.L. Whitaker, Professor of Practice, Department of Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences
Mandla Kunnie has created a digital database of the locations of all rainwater harvesting infrastructure in the Tucson area. Such a database can help water managers plan for population growth and the associated increased demand on water resources. Tiffani Cañez has mapped the location and depth of underground fresh and salty water in the Willcox, Arizona area, where homeowners' wells are running dry. Cañez's map is one step toward helping local people better understand the extent of their freshwater resources and assess the potential to use salty water as an alternative resource.
Kunnie and Cañez are only two of more than a dozen Hydrology & Atmospheric Science (HAS) undergraduates whose research is contributing to real-world water resource and atmospheric science studies. They are an excellent example of how - regardless of one's field of study - participating in undergraduate research, or working as an intern for a professional organization is an excellent way to explore a career track, gain transferrable professional skills, and network with a variety of professionals. In many cases, undergraduate interns and researchers are exploring questions and completing projects that employers and faculty have been meaning to address, but have not had the time or the human resources to do so. This makes internships a win-win for potential employers, who increase productivity by employing students and often use internships as an opportunity to screen potential employees. The various professional development and practical skills that students gain in internships and undergraduate research projects are so valuable, the University of Arizona has developed initiative that endorses such activities.
The University of Arizona's 100% Engagement Initiative promotes real-world learning by officially acknowledging students' various professional and personal growth experiences with Engaged Learning Notations on students' transcripts. This notation demonstrates a university endorsement of professional and experience-based skills that many employers seek. The HAS Department has ensured that all of our students receive multiple opportunities to earn these itemized notations, including whenever they participate in internships. In fact, in addition to earning Engaged Learning Notations on their transcripts, HAS students earn college credit and fulfill technical elective requirements toward their B.S. degree. Virtually every student in HAS who seeks an internship or research opportunity will secure at least one, sometimes more.
Internships for HAS students have been landed at various government agencies such as Tucson Water, the Pima County Regional Flood Control District, the United States Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, and also several environmental consulting agencies in Tucson and Phoenix (for summer interns). Undergraduate research with HAS faculty is also an increasingly common option for our students to gain experience and earn 100% Engagement Notations. Because we now offer both Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources (HAS-EHY) and Atmospheric Science (HAS-ATMO) tracks for our Hydrology and Atmospheric Science majors, internship and undergraduate opportunities are growing for students interested in weather forecasting and atmospheric sciences. One of our students is currently volunteering at the National Weather Service working on forecast improvement for active storm days during the North American Monsoon, and another student is studying with a HAS faculty member to discern the relation between El Niño and West African droughts, which affect over a million people at risk of famine.
Students who would like to make a difference to society and/or the environment should consider an internship. An internship provides exposure to potential career tracks, including a variety of careers in Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. Interested students should contact the HAS
Martha and Brittany are also the contacts for organizations interested in hosting an intern with HAS training.