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March 11th, 2022
SIUE Awarded $1.5M for Watershed Scholars Graduate Program

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has received $1.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of a novel model for graduate education that removes financial barriers and increases diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The project, “At the Confluence: Supporting Critical Transitions for Graduate Students in Sustainable Watersheds Research,” is led by principal investigator (PI) Adriana E. Martinez, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

The program is now enrolling its first cohort, and will contribute to the national need for educated STEM professionals by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need.

Participating graduate students will receive a tuition waiver and a $10,000 scholarship for each of the two years of their master’s program. Over the project’s six-year duration, 45 scholarships will be funded for students pursuing graduate degrees in environmental sciences, civil engineering, biology or chemistry.

“The Watershed Scholars Program will develop scholars whose research will contribute to the scientific understanding of sustainable watersheds using a variety of interdisciplinary approaches and cross-cutting skills frequently sought by local and regional employers,” said Martinez. “Graduates will be prepared to address the significant environmental challenges posed by human modifications and alterations to watersheds, including impacts resulting from climate change.”

According to Martinez, the project’s leadership team reflects a variety of subdisciplines within watershed sciences including faculty in civil engineering, climatology, geomorphology and hydrology, watershed biotic populations and communities, and geology.

Co-PIs include:

  • Rohan Benjankar, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering
  • Alan W. Black, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and GIS
  • Carol E. Colaninno, PhD, research associate professor in the SIUE STEM Center
  • Sharon Locke, PhD, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and director of the SIUE STEM Center

“Students will develop close relationships with our research team so that they are provided with multiple mentoring and research opportunities,” Martinez explained. “Students will study watersheds from multiple disciplinary perspectives, which will prepare them to solve complex problems related to watershed sustainability and resiliency. Involvement in faculty research has a positive impact on a student’s science identity, ultimately making them more successful in their science pursuits.”

The research team will lead professional workshops, conduct group advising of students as they progress through their programs, offer a new course in sustainable watersheds, and connect participants with internships and professional networks in watershed science.

The program enhances opportunities for students to pursue STEM disciplines regardless of their backgrounds and family circumstances.

“I am a first-generation graduate student who didn’t know how to navigate the system,” shared Martinez, “By removing financial barriers through this program, we’re also helping to eliminate some of the mental stress of graduate school. Our group advising approach increases the likelihood of success in graduate school. Plus, our program provides an academic social network for students to support each other in their time at SIUE, which helps create a sense of belonging.”

The project team aims to better understand how to support STEM students to transition successfully to graduate school. The team’s education researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of mentoring and professional development and share the findings at national conferences and in publications. By testing a new model, SIUE is contributing to improving U.S. STEM graduate education.

To learn more about the S-STEM Watershed Scholars Program and to apply, visit

This project (2130471) is funded by NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers, and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and academic/career pathways of low-income students.

By preparing the next generation of leaders in a knowledge-based economy, SIUE’s Graduate School fulfills the region’s demand for highly trained professionals. Graduate program offerings include arts and sciences, business, education, engineering, nursing and interdisciplinary opportunities. SIUE professors provide students with a unique integration of theoretical education and hands-on research experiences. Students can obtain graduate certificates or pursue master’s degrees, and be part of a supportive learning and rich intellectual environment that is tailored to the needs of adult learners. The Graduate School’s Office of Research and Projects supports and raises the visibility of research and creative activity at SIUE, which ranks highest among its Illinois Board of Higher Education peers in total research and development expenditures according to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey.