InTERFEWS expands to tackle complex challenges in food-energy-water systems

The second cohort of InTERFEWS trainees started Fall 2020 and include, from left to right, top to bottom, Joey Blumberg, Kimberley Corwin, Elizabeth Ellis, Brandi Grauberger, Elizabeth Ross and Annika Weber.
The second cohort of InTERFEWS trainees started Fall 2020 and include, from left to right, top to bottom, Joey Blumberg, Kimberley Corwin, Elizabeth Ellis, Brandi Grauberger, Elizabeth Ross and Annika Weber.

In the second year since Colorado State University received funding from the National Science Foundation to create InTERFEWS – Interdisciplinary Training, Education and Research in Food-Energy-Water Systems – the program has doubled in size in both research proposals and participants.

The program integrates food, energy and water education using a systems-based approach that cuts across disciplines, departments and colleges at CSU. The goal is to prepare graduate students with the skills and knowledge necessary to make meaningful contributions to the complex and changing interactions of these systems.

“It has always intuitively made sense that solving the large-scale and complex problems facing society would require efforts from many disciplines and many professions,” said Ben Choat, a civil engineering Ph.D. student who is part of the first cohort of trainees that started last fall. “Throughout my academic career this has been a guiding understanding, and largely led me into my current program and to InTERFEWS.”

Portrait of Ben Choat, civil engineering doctoral student, standing against a brick wall.
Ben Choat, civil engineering doctoral student.

There are currently 22 research projects proposed for trainees to pursue and 64 faculty mentors, representing all eight CSU colleges, 20 different departments, and several collaborative research centers and institutes.

Proposals must identify relevant food-energy-water systems connections and are vetted by the InTERFEWS leadership team. The program also accepts research and apprenticeship proposal ideas from industry partners, as well as external mentoring volunteers.

For Choat’s dissertation, he is researching how different outdoor urban water uses, management strategies and land-cover types will impact income distribution, sustainability and resilience in the South Platte River Basin. He seeks to explain how more efficient irrigation in the urban areas of the basin will impact water availability and income for downstream agricultural producers.

“It is my hope that by explicitly uniting urban and rural areas of the basin in management, we can work to bridge the growing urban-rural gap seen throughout the country today,” Choat said.

Choat looks forward to his apprenticeship with the Colorado Water Conservation Board this summer, where he will quantify hydrologic impacts and ecosystem services of urban agriculture in the South Platte River Basin. Apprenticing with industry, government agency and non-governmental organization partners is a fundamental part of the program.

Choat, in his second year with InTERFEWS, said he has learned about many tools and concepts useful for understanding and analyzing complex systems. He now can better identify the parts that are most important for intervention in order to have the biggest impact. However, the most significant benefit he has gained has been the community and network of collaborators.

“One of the main realizations I’ve gained from InTERFEWS is that when working in the ‘intersections,’ an individual can only do so much,” he said. “Collaboration is absolutely essential to truly perform meaningful work that transcends typical discipline and system boundaries.”

InTERFEWS is accepting volunteer mentors and research proposals from faculty and industry partners. The application period for Fall 2021 trainees will open Nov. 2 and close Jan. 15. For more information, visit the InTERFEWS website.