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Research Experience for Undergraduates and Research Experience for Future Farmers

Program Description

STEPS will support 15 students for ten weeks during Summer 2024 through a multi-institutional Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Students will begin the summer together at a one-week orientation/boot camp. Here, students will learn more about the Center and the wicked problem of phosphorus sustainability. Students will also get hands-on time in different lab settings.

During the remaining nine weeks, students will work on independent research projects within the Center under the mentorship of STEPS Scholars and faculty. Students will be placed on projects that align with their research and career interests at one of the nine STEPS academic institutions. In addition to research projects in STEPS laboratories, all REU participants will learn skills in convergence research through a collaborative cohort project.

Considering the long-term nature of the “25-in-25” vision, at least five REU positions are targeted for applicants who indicate future career plans in farming or related agricultural professions, forming a Research Experience for Future Farmers (REF) track within the program. REF-track participants will be placed in labs/projects supportive of their interests, be co-mentored by a research mentor and an agricultural extension faculty member, and be provided opportunities to present farmer perspectives to the REU cohort.

Apply here.

Questions can be directed to

Program Details

  • Program Dates: May 20 – July 26, 2024
  • The application period for the 2024 REU Program is now open. Apply here.
    • Priority application deadline: January 31st, 2024.
    • Applications will be accepted and reviewed after the priority deadline through February 28th, 2024 until all spots are filled.
  • Stipend: $6,500 in addition to on-campus housing at the host institution and travel to STEPS institutions.
  • Eligibility: Applicants must be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program and be a US Citizen or permanent resident. We encourage applicants from a variety of disciplines including but not limited to chemistry, environmental engineering, materials science, computer science, plant sciences, biochemistry, economics, sociology, and biology. Students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields are strongly encouraged to apply.

Program Requirements

  • Participants must be available to begin the program on the start date and are required to attend the entire ten-week program. Any proposed conflicts should be included on the application.
  • Participants must be enrolled in an accredited college or university with at least one remaining semester before graduation. (Graduating seniors are not eligible.)
  • Participants are prohibited from other employment while participating in the program.

Past Participants

2023 Cohort

2022 Cohort

Summer 2024 Faculty

Students will work on STEPS research projects in one of the faculty labs listed below. We will match students with labs and projects that align with their research interests, goals, and expertise. Note: This list is dynamic and more faculty may be added before the application deadline.

Elise Morrison (University of Florida)
My group focuses on the effects of P on aquatic systems. In this project, we’re studying the P flow diagram in the South Florida triple bottom line (TBL) site. We will be using historical data to generate a P inventory for the South Florida TBL that will be compared to P inventories at the NC and AZ TBL sites. The work will focus on modeling, but you will have opportunities to participate in wet lab and fieldwork.

Jango Bhadha (University of Florida, Everglades Research and Extension Center, Belle Glade, Florida)
The student will be working on collecting and processing soil, water, and plant tissue samples. The work will include lab and field work within the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Chris Muhich (Arizona State University)*
Computational evaluation of the interactions of P-containing moieties with solid materials. Students will learn about computational chemistry, using informatics/machine learning, and using high-performance computing to solve the P challenge.

Paul Westerhoff (Arizona State University)*
Research in the area of emerging contaminants and innovative treatment processes for clean water.

Justin Baker (NC State University)
Development and application of economic models that reflect spatial and temporal dependencies between markets, natural resource systems, infrastructure, and policy factors

Doug Call (NC State University)
We study P removing microorganisms in wastewater treatment. This work involves wet lab work, bioinformatics (computer work), stakeholder work, and data science.

Ross Sozzani (NC State University)
Testing biomaterials in bioprinted plant cells to see if they take up phosphorus better with biomaterials than with traditional fertilization approaches.

Dan Obenour (NC State University)
Our research focuses on quantifying P flows across terrestrial and aquatic systems at the national level. It also involves analyzing management strategies and considering water quality impacts. We use data analysis and computational modeling.

Jan Genzer (NC State University)
Our group is involved in the design of a hydrogel system that enables selective capturing and release of inorganic phosphorous. The system characteristics include high tunability toward the composition of incoming streams, 99% recovering capacity, recyclability, low cost, and compatibility with existing water purification technologies. The work involves synthesis, characterization, and performance evaluation of hydrogels in batch and continuous flow configurations.

Chris Gorman (NC State University)
Chemical synthesis of phosphate-capturing polymeric materials and their efficacy in phosphate capture and recovery.

Owen Duckworth (NC State University)
Biogeochemical processes that control the fate, transport, speciation, and bioavailability of nutrients and contaminants in soil and water.

Natalie Nelson (NC State University)
We study and model how phosphorus moves through the environment, with a particular focus on understanding how phosphorus ends up in waterways like rivers and estuaries. Work in our lab includes a combination of modeling and fieldwork.

Brooke Mayer (Marquette)
Our team conducts lab-based testing of phosphorus adsorption and transformation processes. As part of STEPS, we are engineering bio-inspired natural P capture and cycling processes.

Shea Tuberty (Appalachian State University)
Our lab conducts fieldwork by collecting water samples from headwater streams & high country rivers for analyzing phosphorus (P) concentrations to pair with water chemistry/depth sonde data and USGS gauge discharge values for calculating P flux as part of a triple bottom line effort for rural, low development and forested watersheds of the Eastern United States. Student scholars will integrate GIS (for land cover and use), analytical chemistry, and sonde monitoring technologies (Eureka sondes and ISCO autosamplers) to contribute data for the seasonal P flux calculations and predictive modeling based on GIS land cover and use layers for 14 small to large watersheds in Northwestern NC near Boone, NC.

Anne Fanatico (Appalachian State University)
We focus on nutrient cycling in local community-based food systems, including how living organisms such as chickens and even microbes enhance phosphorus cycling. Undergraduates work in the field and lab and also engage with stakeholders.

Gail Jones (NC State University)
Student will work on data analysis of the Center’s education research and help develop and trial new educational activities and demos for the public.

Rebecca Muenich (Arkansas)
My research group works on integrating watershed modeling and data science to inform opportunities for phosphorus recovery and management. We welcome students interested in field and/or data analysis work.

*Summer housing will not be arranged for students located at Arizona State University (ASU), though a housing stipend can be provided. We encourage local applicants for students interested in projects at ASU.