Hamid Ghaderi knew at an early age what his life’s calling would be. All he had to do was look around at the environmental conditions where he grew up in Tehran, Iran.
“As a kid, I would see it every day -- all of the pollution related to industrial and urban environments, especially the waterways,” said Ghaderi, who is now earning his PhD in systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona. “This early exposure to the dire environmental landscape only served to reinforce my dedication to do something about it.”
As one of the UA’s 12 2020 Carson Scholars, Ghaderi will have a chance to further the work he’s long been committed to doing. The Carson Scholars Program, housed in the UA Institute of the Environment, provides support to the next generation of environmental researchers. In addition to $5,000 scholarships, recipients receive an academic year’s worth of training in science communication. The program has provided $430,000 in funding to scholars across 23 disciplines since 2012.
“We follow a competitive process,” said Andrea Gerlak, Carson Scholar Program mentor and associate professor in the School of Geography & Development. “We are looking for graduate students engaged in compelling, environmentally-related research, who are well-advanced in their data collection and analysis work -- and who are highly recommended by their faculty advisors.”
After earning a master’s degree in industrial engineering at Iran University of Science and Technology , Ghaderi decided to head 7,600 miles from home to pursue further studies at the UA. His research focus is on sustainable design and manufacturing. For example, he investigates ways to recover and recycle hard drives and magnets to reduce their carbon footprints.
“The program can help me figure out how to communicate my research to diverse audiences and gather funding for projects that I am passionate about,” he said. “I hope that leads to me being comfortable with presenting my ideas to different stakeholders who have different backgrounds.”
After graduating from the UA, Ghaderi would like to design sustainable and systems-based solutions for green manufacturing.
Providing Water to Underserved Communities
It took a perfect storm of events to turn Varinia Felix, the college’s other 2020 Carson Scholar, into an environmental engineer. While she was studying architecture at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez University in Mexico, she and a group of fellow students visited a site in Chihuahua, the capital city of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
They hoped the site would become home to a sustainable community center, but those dreams were washed away by a torrential rainstorm. Realizing how much the environment can affect people living in low-income communities made Felix rethink her future.
“How could we think about designing a green building when we couldn’t even guarantee a safe environment where people would be guaranteed safe, clean water?” she wondered. “Suddenly, I was overcome with the feeling of wanting to improve society in a much larger scope.”
Felix went on to earn her master’s degree in environmental engineering with an emphasis in water treatment technologies at the University of Texas at El Paso, or UTEP. Her research there centered around using reverse osmosis for water treatment in underserved communities.
While at UTEP, Felix heard about the UA Water & Energy Sustainable Technology Center, or WEST Center, where university researchers work with with Pima County, Tucson Water and industry partners to develop new technologies dealing with water scarcity and reuse. Excited by the opportunity to take a more technical research approach, Felix headed west to Tucson after graduation to work on her doctorate.
As a member of the Achilli Research and Teaching Lab, Felix studies different membrane processes for water treatment. She is currently conducting life cycle assessments for different water treatment systems. Felix hopes to pursue a hybrid career between consulting and academia after graduation, and she said the Carson Scholar Program is an ideal opportunity to expand her horizons.
“The other students in the program are very open to give their perspectives,” she said. “The experience encourages me to get out of my comfort zone.”
Chris Cokinos, associate professor of English and Carson Scholar mentor, said Ghaderi’s and Felix’s combination of expertise and enthusiasm make them excellent matches for the program. "Both are working on such important issues,” he said. “They each bring a personal passion to this, and we are delighted to work with them over the rest of the year."