Working with colleagues from a variety of fields such as anthropology and public health, Jepson and others are pooling their resources to create a metric for use by governments and NGOs seeking to address water needs anywhere in the world. With funding from the National Science Foundation and a Fulbright Scholarship, Jepson is currently testing her metrics and gathering data in northeastern Brazil. Part of her work also includes teaching graduate courses and advising students on water security as a visiting professor at the Universidade Federal do Ceará in Brazil.
Getting Their Feet Wet
Teaching is an essential part of the Water Security Initiative. That’s where Judy Nunez comes in. A professor and director of student recruitment in the College of Geosciences, Nunez launched a high-impact, first-year class around the topic of water in 2015. During the course, students participated in a learning community and developed team building, communication and other soft skills while exploring a water issue. Such courses, said Jepson, provide a rich experience for students that boosts enrollment, retention and successful degree completion.
For the course, Nunez selected the book “Wine to Water” by Doc Hendley as the common text, about one man’s inspiring response to the global water crisis. The class met weekly throughout the year to discuss water issues, such as the turmoil in Flint, Michigan. The course culminated in a 10-day service-learning trip to Costa Rica in the spring.
The College of Geosciences underwrote most of the cost of the trip to Costa Rica, though students paid their own airfare. The total cost per student for the 10-day trip was about $1,200. While in Costa Rica, students stayed at the Texas A&M University Soltis Center for Research and Education in San Juan de Peñas Blancas. Students worked with and learned from the local community water officials: They hiked up mountains to springs that supply the town’s water to test for purity; visited a local school to teach youngsters about sanitation, hygiene and conservation; and studied the area’s wastewater systems to find ways to improve it.
The class deeply impacted the 18 student participants. “They came back changed people, and then they said, ‘What’s next?’” said Nunez. In addition to starting a Wine to Water student organization at Texas A&M to raise awareness about global water concerns, they also organized a Brazos River cleanup event and visited Bryan-College Station schools to teach kids about water conservation.
The following year, the cohort served as mentors to a new group of students enrolled in Nunez’s class. And this spring, 12 of the students from the original group traveled to the Dominican Republic independent of the university to build and distribute ceramic water filters to households in poor communities. “By the time these students graduate, I expect they will have three to four international water-related study service experiences,” Nunez said. “My heart is in this program completely because it’s so much more than a resume enhancement for students. It partners them with local communities to improve the lives of the people living there.”
Nunez and Jepson, with a new cohort of students, will continue the work in Costa Rica in 2018.