Carson Scholars Recap Summer Activities and Look Forward to the Fall

Sept. 8, 2020
Carson Scholars Program, Summer Kick-Off Event Zoom group picture


The environmental scholars and artists who make up the 2020 cohort of the Carson Scholars Program mean to change the world—even as the world has changed around them. The 12 scholars, from disciplines as diverse as creative writing to engineering, continue to pursue both their own projects and the training the program gives them in science communication.


Dedicated to training the next generation of environmental researchers and artists in the practice of public communication, the Carson Scholars Program provides a one-year fellowship to select graduate students at the University of Arizona. Throughout the year, Carson Scholars work closely with faculty mentors who provide hands-on training and other resources to develop skills and strategies to effectively convey the value of their research and enhance their skills in communicating to a variety of audiences. The Scholars then put their training to work with public speaking engagements and essay writing. The program is nearly a decade old.

And this year it faces, as we all do, the pandemic.

The 2020 Carson Scholars have had to pivot their research and change their summer research-travel plans to accommodate the travel and other restrictions due to COVID-19. The Scholars will also shift course for the Fall semester speaking engagements from previous public settings to a virtual webinar in four parts, a series that is being developed with the support of Biosphere 2.


Summer Highlights

This summer, many Scholars used their time to write. Mary-Belle Cruz Ayala (researching governance of groundwater in Mexico) and Grace Windler (researching the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool) focused on writing for their dissertations. Mary-Belle used her time to conduct interviews and will be publishing her second paper next year, while Grace completed and submitted her first chapter to a journal to be published, with more chapters in the works.

Amanda Lee (research interests in medical systems and institutions, care for environmental exposure-related chronic illnesses, and environmental and racial justice in Tucson), Hamid Ghaderi (research focuses on techno-economic analysis, life cycle assessment, and developing decision making tools for hard drive value recovery in the U.S.) and Julia Davies (researching urban food security, poverty and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa) wrote and submitted research papers this summer. Amanda had her first authored paper accepted, Hamid wrote and is planning to submit a paper early this semester, and Julia worked with Carson Scholars mentor Andrea Gerlak, submitting a paper. Meanwhile, Ziya Kaya (researching the intersection of rural livelihoods and environmental and technological change) wrote a book review for submission during the break, and Varinia Felix (researching water treatment technologies) submitted grant proposals and did modeling work.

Other Scholars completed lab work and are using the data to model their findings. Grace was lucky to complete all her lab-based research last year while Bekah Waller (research interests in increasing the sustainability, efficiency, and accessibility of controlled environment agriculture systems) concluded her experiments in mid-June only to push her laptop to the limit with the modeling work that followed.

Some Scholars used their time this summer compiling more resources and research. Lucy Kirkman (research focuses on the social, environmental, and economic impacts of gold mining in Zimbabwe) was unable to do her experiential research in Zimbabwe, so she spent her first summer in Tucson compiling a large book list and doing a lot of reading. Ziya had planned to conduct his research in Turkey, but he had to shift to online research.

Some few Scholars also found opportunity for further research and action because of COVID-19.

Amanda collected resources for local Tucson business to help them through the pandemic and the financial impacts. Alex Karnish (researches mutualisms, species interactions where both species benefit) participated virtually in the Ecological Society of America’s online conference by giving a 12-minute presentation.

Finally, Kimberly Parra shifted focus from investigating chemical contamination of agricultural communities to do field work in Monterey County, California to monitor exposure to COVID-19 in farm workers who are deemed essential food service workers. This summer through November, at the end of the agricultural season, Kimberly will be operating out of “COVID tents,” swabbing for saliva, collecting blood samples and testing both to collect data on COVID-19 exposure.


Join us in welcoming all of these Scholars back for their final semester in the Carson Scholars Program and wishing them luck as they continue on their journey! To keep up to date with current Carson Scholars and alum, follow @uarizonacarson on Twitter, Instagram and UArizona Carson Scholars Program on Facebook.



Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation

College of Engineering 

College of Science Galileo Circle

Graduate College

Arizona Institute for Resilience

Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment & Social Justice

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences