Graduate Fellows

"The GCSC effectively brought me to the University of Utah. My advisor's affiliation, the financial support, as well as the promise of interdisciplinary training were simply too good to pass up. I have been elated by the opportunity to dive into collaborative, interdisciplinary work, and even more appreciative of the passionate community within the GCSC."

- Chris Zajchowski, GCSC Fellow

The GCSC First Year Fellowship helps attract top students who have research interests around the broad themes of the environment and sustainability, and who seek graduate training that extends beyond the scope of a single discipline. While these students will receive their degrees from different departments across campus, the GCSC provides interdisciplinary training experiences that will help prepare students for broad engagement and collaboration in the professional realm.

Fellows are also eligible to apply for GCSC's small grants in support of research and travel to professional meetings.

For information on fellowship requirements and the selection process, see  About the First Year GCSC Fellowship.

GCSC Fellow Cohorts

Erin Bessette-kirton, GEOLOGY AND GEOPHYSICS

After studying physics, geology, and civil engineering as an undergraduate, I received an MS in geological engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Since then, I have worked for the U.S. Geological Survey Landslide Hazards Program, where I studied landslides throughout the western US, in Puerto Rico, and around the world. As a PhD student at the University of Utah I will be working with Dr. Jeffrey Moore to study the mechanical processes that condition and trigger natural hazards, with a focus on the effects of thermal processes in rock structures. I am also broadly interested in the impacts of global climate change on geohazard processes and hazard and risk communication.

Nicolas Hernandez, communication

My research as a graduate student has focused on the internal rhetoric of scientists and engineers working on low carbon energy technologies (LCET). I find energy systems fascinating, as they can be both contributors to climate change and pollution, as well as loci for sustainable development and community empowerment. As such, my research interests include issues of environmental justice within the energy transition milieu. I will pursue a Ph.D. in Communication with Dr. Danielle Endres, seeking to better understand the confluence of efforts towards energy democracy and environmental justice in post Maria Puerto Rico

Sayma Khajehei, City and Metropolitan Planning

I completed a Bachelor in Architectural Engineering at Shiraz University and a Master’s in Post-disaster Reconstruction at Shahid Beheshti University in Iran. I spent the next several years working as a lecturer in the University of Applied Science and Technology in Tehran and a researcher in Housing Foundation of Iran, where I covered everything from architectural design, post-disaster recovery, and documenting reconstruction projects. In 2017, I moved to Iowa to pursue a Master’s of Community and Regional Planning. My thesis explores the recovery challenges of public housing residents in Lumberton, North Carolina, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

I will be working with Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning as a Ph.D. student. My research interests include the ways in which the resiliency of socially vulnerable population in the community towards natural hazards are provided; how collective performance of social, economic, institutional and physical environments results in community resiliency; and how the resilience of a community is inextricably linked to both the environment condition and the resources’ treatment.

Roger Renteria, Sociology

I earned my BA in sociology and entered the terminal MA program at University of Texas at El Paso. My sociological research ended up revolving around the study of social organisms and the systems that shape individual and group experiences. As my sociological knowledge has grown, I have expanded my perspectives on inequalities and ideologies and come to understand that they are rooted in social structures. At the University of Utah, I will pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology with Dr.Sara  Grineski, researching environmental sociology and environmental justice.

Hannah Satein, City and Metropolitan Planning

I am moving to Utah from Oregon where I completed my undergraduate degree in Planning, Public Policy and Management from the University of Oregon and my master's degree in Water Resources Policy and Management at Oregon State University. My master's work focused on the intersection of traditional and collaborative policymaking to facilitate more sustainable management of a river system in Central Oregon. I am excited to continue to explore the intersection of these methods of policymaking, as well as the roles of power and trust in environmental collaboratives in the American West. I will be working with Dr. Danya Rumore through the Metropolitan Planning, Policy, and Design PhD program and the Wallace Stegner Center's Environmental Dispute Resolution program.

Kripa Thapa, Geography

I was born and bred in the lap of the majestic Himalayas in Nepal, home to the highest peak, Mount Everest. My budding affinity towards nature led me to pursue my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel, Kavre, Nepal.

At the University of Utah, I will be undertaking a Master’s of Science in Geography, studying under the guidance of Dr. Summer Rupper.  I aspire to become a changemaker and conduct pathbreaking research on glaciers, water resources, and climate change. Moreover, I want to render scientific justifications to environmental policies that can further be strengthened at a global scale and contribute towards a sustainable future for all.  I plan to broaden my understanding of sustainability issues through the GCSC fellowship and am also looking forward to learning and working collectively with the faculty and the other GCSC fellows.

Ning Xiong, Geography

I was born in China. I obtained my bachelor degree in construction management from China University of Geosciences. I got my master degree under the guidance of Professor Liyin Shen from Chongqing University, China, and have participated in several urban-related national research projects during this process. Following graduation, I worked as Research Assistant under the guidance of Dr. Ivy S.W. WONG at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for a year to continue my research. At the University of Utah, I will be pursing a Ph.D. in Geography under the mentorship of Dr. Yehua Dennis Wei. My research will be focusing on sustainable urbanization and understanding the mechanics between fast urbanization and environmental sustainability.

Dani Zebelean, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Growing up the desert that is Salt Lake City, Utah, I developed a deep love for water. Specifically, how to conserve water and use it wisely. Going into college, I knew I wanted to study a subject that would enable me to help promote water consciousness around the West which is how I found Civil and Environmental Engineering. While completing my bachelor's degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Utah, I further developed a passion for water treatment and water reuse. When I am not geeking out over the latest technologies or methods I'm outside playing no matter what the weather is like. 

I will be pursuing a Master's degree working under Dr. Jennifer Weidhaas. My research currently is evaluating sustainable treatment options for industrial wastewater using bacteria from the Great Salt Lake to treat brine so it can be recycled through the treatment system. I will also be evaluating the potential for high saline groundwater remediation.