Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I need an undergraduate engineering degree to apply to the SWD program?
No! With SWD, we have created a graduate program that will be accessible to anyone with an undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree. We are looking for bright, highly motivated students that are eager to participate in a highly innovative approach to graduate education, where training is more flexible and tailored to the career goals of the student.

When does the SWD graduate program start?
The first coursework, and initial cohort of SWD graduate students, will start in the Fall of 2017.

What are the degree options within SWD?  
We offer both MS and PhD degrees within SWD. The degree requirements are the same as those for other graduate programs within Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa (i.e., 30 semester hours of credit for MS and 72 semester hours for PhD).

What is the anticipated time to degree in the SWD program?
We anticipate PhD students to complete their degree in 4 years, while MS students will complete their degree in 2 years.

What financial support is available for students in the SWD program?
Any student conducting research (i.e., pursuing a research thesis) will be appointed on a paid “Research Assistanceship” or “RA”. We anticipate the overwhelming majority of SWD students will be conducting research and thus be supported by a RA appointment. RA appointments in SWD will provide a generous stipend (~$28,000 per year for PhD students) while also covering tuition, fees, and benefits. Highly qualified applicants wil also be eligible for a prestigious NRT fellowship, which provides a higher stipend ($34,000) relative to a typical RA appointment.

Are both MS and PhDs eligible for the NRT Fellowship ($34,000)?
Yes! Outstanding PhD and MS applicants admitted to the SWD program will be invited to apply to for the NRT fellowship.

How do I apply for an NRT fellowship?
Upon admission to the SWD graduate program, highly qualified applicants will be invited to apply for the NRT Fellowship. Application for the NRT fellowship will require additional application materials that will be clearly specified in the invitation to apply.

What is the anticipated size of the SWD graduate program?
We are targeting an initial cohort (enrolling in Fall 2017) of approximately 10 students, which will represent some combination of MS and PhD students. Over the first five years of the program, we anticipate approximately 50 participants (i.e., roughly 10 new SWD students per year). SWD students will have a community to grow with at UI, but the program also won’t be so large that SWD students feel like they can't get individualized attention from our faculty and staff.  Beyond the SWD program, there are approximately 80 graduate students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering spread across four other graduate programs (e.g., Hydraulics and Water Resources, Environmental Engineering and Science, Transportation, and Structures and Mechanics of Materials).  

What faculty are involved in the SWD graduate program?
The SWD program brings together faculty from across five UI colleges (Business, Education, Public Health, Liberal Arts & Science, Engineering) and five UI Centers [IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering (IIHR), Iowa Flood Center (IFC), Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), Public Policy Center (PPC), Center for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA)]. The SWD faculty and affiliates are: (list with links to personal pages, including the instructors and research affiliates – Mubeen, Greg, Keith Schilling, perhaps also instructors – Corey, Antonio, Larry).

What types of courses will SWD students take?
We are developing new and modern curricula for all SWD students, with classes that not only emphasize science and engineering at the food-energy-water nexus, but also professional skills development to better prepare graduates for careers in academia and beyond. Core course that all SWD students (MS and PhD) will take include:

  • Politics and Economics of the Food, Energy, Water Nexus: Focuses on the relationships between FEW resources while helping students understand current and future political and economic frameworks that will shape the FEW nexus.
  • Foundations of Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology: Explore the chemical and microbial processes responsible for converting biomass to liquid fuels, resource recovery from wastewater, removing pollutants from drinking water sources, controlling pollution from agribusiness, and for treating industrial process waters.
  • Fluid Flow in Natural Systems: Covers the basic principles of water and sediment transport, with an emphasis on the physics of free-surface flow and understanding the concepts of controls, transitions, gradually- and spatially-varied flow.
  • Watershed Ecology and Management: Provides an introduction to the key concepts of ecohydraulics and gives an overview of existing watershed modeling techniques and water quality issues typically encountered in the agricultural Midwest.
  • Systems-Level Environmental Informatics: Deals with development of software systems for the acquistion, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of environmental data observed by remote and in-situ sensors and instruments.
  • Communication Skills: Emphasizes technical writing and presentation skills for reaching broad audiences and stakeholders at the food-energy-water nexus.
  • Capstone Project-Based Community Engagement Course: Capstone course intended for SWD students in their final year, where they will complete a project-based exercise in partnership with a resource-constrained community.

These core courses will be balanced by courses that promote professional development and cultural competency, while elective coursework will be training path specific.

What are the training “Paths” available to SWD students?
With SWD, we have created a graduate program with more flexibility that allows students to tailor their training to best meet their career goals. Students will choose between six areas of specialization (or training “Paths”) focused on possible career options available to SWD graduates upon completion of their degree. These “Paths” are: 

  • Professional Engineer for those interested in a career in consulting or industry;
  • Civic Engineer for those interested in a career in public service or working with municipalities at the city or state level;
  • Global Engineer for those interested in working with an NGO or in the developing world;
  • Entrepreneurial Engineer for those interested in business administration, management or growing toward their own start-up;
  • Researcher for those that want to work in a federal research laboratory or agency like EPA, USGS, USDA, or NOAA; and
  • Professor for those that want to pursue a tenure-track faculty position. 

Each Path will have unique training elements, with elective coursework and an professional training experience tailored to each career placement.

Do I need to have a path chosen when I arrive?
No! All SWD students (MS and PhD) will enroll in an introductory seminar during the first semester that introduces the path structure in greater detail, and provides an overview of the different career options available to them through each training path. The expectation is that students will select their training path by the end of this first semester.
What are the required Professional Training Experiences (PTEs)? 
All PhD and MS students will be expected to complete a professional training experience that is tailored to their chosen training path. In many cases (unless noted below), the PTE is similar to an internship or co-op program for undergraduates and will consist of a summer-long experience for MS students and a year-long experience for PhD trainees. We have partnered with several companies, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide authentic work-force experiences for SWD trainees in areas complementing both their research theme and preferred career path. Each trainee will be assigned a PTE mentor to facilitate the learning experience. PTEs for each training path are detailed as follows:

  • Professional Engineer: PTEs will allow MS and PhD students to contribute to solving “real-world” problems related to SWD in and around Iowa and the Midwest. To date, we have commitments from Stanley Consultants and HDR, two world-wide, top-ranked engineering firms working in FEW sectors, to provide PTE projects and mentoring for trainees interested in this path. We continue to add PTE partners along this Path, leveraging both the UI alumni network and the extensive professional networks of SWD personnel.
  • Global Engineer: PTEs on this path will build upon UI’s decade-long history in study abroad experiences that promote sustainable development. For example, SWD faculty Craig Just will facilitate PTEs via EWB USA, for which he has served on the Faculty Leadership Council, and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) International. PTEs will provide students the opportunity to conduct research abroad, applying principles learned in the SWD training program to communities in need around the world.
  • Civic Engineer: PTEs will capitalize on UI’s existing relationships with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering (Rock Island District) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to provide experiences focused on watershed management, ecosystem restoration, and flood plain mapping. Additional PTEs will range from training in public works to working directly with local, state, or federal agencies, such as County Engineers of Iowa.
  • Entrepreneurial Engineer: Rather than an internship experience, SWD trainees will be required to complete the MBA program through the UI Tippie School of Business. Coursework through the MBA program will contribute to the Path elective coursework, and trainees will receive a dual degree (MBA with either an MS or PhD in SWD) upon completion of their studies.
  • Researcher: PTEs will strengthen trainees’ research expertise through participation in ongoing collaborations with partners at national laboratories and federal agencies. PTEs will provide trainees the opportunity to work on site with these collaborators and contribute to the research mission of these agencies. Examples of partnering agencies include Argonne National Laboratory and the United States Geological Survey.
  • Professor: The PTE will require successful completion of the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching offered through the UI College of Education. This certificate program consists of required coursework on college teaching, which will serve as the path elective courses. This coursework (e.g., Design of Instruction) emphasizes basic instructional issues and methods in college teaching (e.g., lecture, leading discussions, and assessment). Students are also required to complete two practicums (each a semester long) in College Teaching under faculty supervision. This will be accomplished in cooperation with SWD affiliated faculty, where trainees will contribute to development and instruction of core SWD courses.


What types of research projects will SWD trainees work on?
SWD research efforts will aim to improve FEW resiliency and sustainability in resource-constrained communities, while empowering trainees with the research tools needed to be leaders and innovators at the FEW nexus. Trainees will select research projects and mentors best-suited to their intended career path. Research projects will address critical research questions, as well as practical needs, for poor and resource-constrained communities related to FEW resiliency and sustainability. Specifically, major research efforts will address challenges and opportunities in these communities associated with (i) climate variability; (ii) waste reduction and reuse; (iii) the need for scalable, energy-efficient water treatment technologies; and (iv) management of biogeochemical cycles to promote environmental quality. Some examples of research projects from these central themes include:

  • Attribution of changes and evaluation of actionable climate information across the central US (SWD Faculty: Villarini).
  • Fostering water resiliency through rainwater harvesting tanks in rural India (SWD Faculty: Tate)
  • Linking statistical and physical estimation of flood frequency (SWD Faculty: Krajewski)
  • Direct conversion of nitrogen in wastewater to new feed and protein to feed the world (SWD Faculty: Schnoor).
  • Evidence-driven guidelines for safe management of EcoSan toilets (SWD Faculty: Baker)
  • Nanotechnology-enabled point of use (POU) water treatment devices (SWD Faculty: Cwiertny).
  • Solar-driven membrane processes for off-the-grid communities (SWD Faculty: Mubeen)
  • Increasing resilience of Engineered Natural Treatment Systems (SWD Faculty: LeFevre)
  • Role of iron mineral-mediated redox reactions in sustainable N management. (SWD Faculty: Scherer)
  • Opportunities for nutrient processing in the Iowa–Cedar River floodplain (SWD Faculty: Schilling).


Will I be able to study or conduct research abroad?
Trainees in the Global Engineer path will be able to take elective coursework and participate in an internship (including opportunities abroad) tailored to helping them succeed in that setting after you leave Iowa.  I should also note that all SWD trainees will participate in a capstone project course, in which you will get a "boots on the ground" experience working with a resource-constrained community (e.g., working with a rural community in Iowa on a project related to sustainable development). Thus, there are multiple opportunities built into program components to get you real world experience working with resource-constrained communities. 
Where can I apply?

Who can I contact for more information?
Inquiries should be directed toward David Cwiertny, SWD Graduate Program Coordinator at

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