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2023 Sherpa Recipients

“Where did all the water come from?”: Causes and consequences of extreme flooding in Alberta, Canada

Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship

Student: Julianne Davis

Area of study: Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences

Community partner: Barbara Grandjambe and Robert Grandjambe, Mikisew Cree First Nation

Faculty advisor: Tamlin Pavelsky

Spring flooding is an annual occurrence in Ft. Chipewyan, Canada, as snow melt and ice jams raise water levels. However, 2020 was different: the spring floodwaters were higher and did not recede with summer. This project, initiated by questions from residents of Ft. Chipewyan, seeks to discover what made the 2020 flood so damaging. In partnership with members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, we are using community descriptions of the flood and damages as well as publicly available data from satellites, river flow monitoring stations and climate reanalysis models to identify and understand the unique characteristics of this extreme event. We will compare the 2020 flood against an earlier large flood in 1997, described by our community partners as the most similar flood in memory. By comparing environmental data over time and space, our goal is to distinguish local- and watershed-scale flood contributions with the hope of identifying key hydrological and climatological factors that might predict extreme flood events. As we interpret these data and findings with residents of Ft. Chipewyan, we will also assess how the data fit with local knowledge and identify effective ways to share what we learn to ensure the information is available, relevant, and helpful to the community.

Environmental health education and well water quality testing for youth in Warren County

Student: Andromede Uwase

Area of study: Master in Public Health, Environmental Health Concentration

Community partner: Living and Learning Youth Center in Warren County

Faculty advisors: Amanda Northcross and Mike Fisher

The primary goal of this project is to provide environmental health education on well water quality to youth in Warren County. I am a part of the ECUIPP Lab at UNC in the environmental science and engineering department. The lab has been working to develop low-cost water quality testing toolkits and resources to provide more access to communities in North Carolina and private wells.  For the fellowship projects, I will work with our community partners and ECUIPP lab team to create an innovative learning module and activities to introduce youth in warren county to water quality testing and the environmental health education field during the summer camp. After the summer camp, I will evaluate the materials and experience working on this innovative program to design materials that can be used annually and applicable to other communities to introduce to youth water quality basic education, testing, careers in environmental health, and environmental health in general. With this innovative program, we want to introduce to youth in Warren County citizen science tools, advocacy, environmental justice, and how they can help their communities to improve well water quality.  We hope to publicly share the evaluation materials of this program so that other communities can use it as a reference to promote environmental health education to youth.

2022 Sherpa Recipients

Landscape Analysis of Environmental Justice Organizing and Advocacy in North Carolina

Students: Caylin Luebeck and Lindsay Savelli

Area of study: Health Equity

Community partner: Għanja O’Flaherty, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network

Faculty advisor: Courtney Woods

Since the birth of the environmental justice (EJ) movement in 1982s, North Carolina has remained a fertile ground for organizing around environmental health issues. Research shows that community organizers play a crucial role in obtaining knowledge directly from those impacted by a public health issue. With most grassroots organizing, the work is decentralized and not often tracked in a systematic way that would allow organizers to assess, over a long period of time, what practices and strategies were most effective.  Also, across communities, organizers may be duplicating efforts. Conversely, the need for an amplification of effort may remain lesser known. Given the number and range of environmental issues impacting North Carolina’s communities, we believe a systematic analysis of the landscape of EJ work will open opportunities for organizers/organizations to work more effectively, enhance cohesion and partnership across communities and organizations, and build greater potential to drive systems change.

Canary in the Coal Mine: Dogs as sentinels of an emerging Lyme Disease epidemic in Watauga County

Student: Katherine Tyrlik

Area of study: Applied Epidemiology

Community partner: Stephanie van der Weshuizen

Faculty advisor: Ross Boyce

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. In 2019, the CDC reported a 4% increase from 2018 with 34,945 reported cases of Lyme disease. The number of Lyme disease cases are predicted to only increase in the coming years due to factors such as climate change and increased globalization. Over the years, the state of North Carolina has been at the crossroads of the vector-borne illness epidemic. However, Lyme disease remains severely underreported. In the most recent year of Lyme surveillance, Watauga county, in North Carolina, reported no human cases of Lyme disease. This is particularly surprising since the number of Lyme disease cases in domestic dogs have been on the rise in this county. This disparity in cases implies that the human data is not an accurate representation of the Lyme disease problem in Watauga county. There is evidence that there is a correlation between Lyme disease incident cases in dogs and humans. Therefore, using domestic dogs as sentimental animals in Lyme surveillance could act as an early detection method of high-risk areas.

Pre-2022 Sherpa Recipients

2021 – Hania Zanib: Improving Well-Water Quality and Public Health Outcomes Through Community Work in Rural NC

Hania Zanib, a graduate student in environmental sciences and engineering, received the 2021 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for her project: Improving Well-Water Quality and Public Health Outcomes Through Community Work in Rural NC. An estimate of 2.4 million people in North Carolina use well water as their primary water source. This population is at risk for exposure to microbial contamination through contact and consumption of their water. This is because, unlike public water systems, private wells are not regulated under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Groundwater can become contaminated by natural and anthropogenic activities, such as flooding, agricultural and urban runoff, decomposing waste, leaks in sewage systems, etc. These events can introduce enteric viruses and potentially pathogenic bacterial organisms into the ground water supply, which can cause significant health effects. Furthermore, flooding events, to which Eastern North Carolina is particularly susceptible, breach ground water supply, increasing the risk of introducing microbial contaminants. The presence of indicator viruses in private wells in Eastern North Carolina has already been established. However, few studies have investigated the prevalence of pathogenic viruses in breached wells. Hence, an investigation into detection of enteric viruses in the groundwater supply is extremely relevant and will establish remediation considerations for consumers and ultimately minimize the risk of negative health outcomes. This study will recruit owners of private wells in Robeson and Bladen Counties in eastern North Carolina, and well water from these sites will be sampled and analyzed for viral contaminants. Findings from this study will provide valuable data and evidence-based recommendations to identify and address the vulnerability of private water systems to extreme and adverse weather events.

2020 – Prabisha Shrestha: Exploring Potential Impacts of Women’s Leadership in Conservation Outcomes in Nepal

Prabisha Shrestha, a doctoral student studying geography, received the 2020 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for her proposed research project: Exploring Potential Impacts of Women’s Leadership in Conservation Outcomes in Nepal. Shrestha identified recent re-focusing towards female leadership in the organizational structure of the long-standing Community Forestry (CF) conservation program in Nepal. However, Shrestha noticed little academic research in place to measure the outcomes of inclusive leadership in conservation efforts. Shrestha hopes to use qualitative and quantitative research to assess women’s leadership, forest resource conservation and social welfare in Nepali communities interacting with CF programs with and without female representation. Shrestha hopes her work will help measure and support systems that promote social and environmental justice.

2019 – Donald Fejfar: The Dual Burden of Disease in Galápagos, Ecuador: An Interdisciplinary Study of Water on Isabela

Donald Fejfar, a sophomore biostatistics major, received the 2019 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for his project, The Dual Burden of Disease in Galápagos, Ecuador: An Interdisciplinary Study of Water on Isabela. His research aimed to gain a better understanding of water and food quality as well as accessibility and security on the island of Isabela. This project assessed water quality and accessibility through laboratory and geographic information systems analysis, surveyed diet patterns along with food and water security through food-frequency questionnaires in households and contextualized the findings through in-depth ethnographic interviews.

2018 – Catherine Alves: Survey of Fisher Livelihoods and Perceptions: A Belizean Case Study

Catherine Alves, a graduate student studying ecology, received the 2018 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship. Her project, Survey of Fisher Livelihoods and Perceptions: A Belizean Case Study, focused on bettering the lives of small-scale fishers living on the coasts of Belize. Through interviews and data collection, she evaluated the impacts that programs designed to quell over-fishing have had on fishers’ livelihoods. Her work helped to tease apart the perceived impacts on livelihood outcomes by fishers in these programs between pilot and newer sites.

2017 – Lisa Fouladbash: Groundtruthing Sahelian Greening

Lisa Fouladbash, an ecology doctoral student, received the 2017 Sherpa Fellowship for her project, Groundtruthing Sahelian Greening in Burkina Faso. Her study tested the hypothesis that farmer-led soil and water conservation strategies are contributing to regional greening in Burkina Faso. By conducting focus groups with farmers and pastoralists in areas that are greening and browning, Fouladbash tapped into local insights and collective memory about how landscapes and vegetation trends have changed throughout recent history. Her study set a new precedent for research methodology on Sahelian greening by using a mixed-methods approach that pairs groundtruths coarse-resolution remote sensing data with local scale ethnographic data.

2016 – Anna Stamatogiannakis ’17: Maputo Sanitation

Anna Stamatogiannakis ’17, an Environmental Health Sciences major, received the 2016 Sherpa Fellowship to further the work of her project, Maputo Sanitation (MapSan). MapSan characterized the routes of environmental exposure to fecal contamination (water, soil, flies, etc.) to better understand whether or not new latrines are effective in disease reduction. The team collected environmental samples from low-income households in semi-formal, densely populated urban settlements in Maputo, Mozambique. MapSan was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health for the Republic of Mozambique (MISAU), four different public universities in the U.S. and the U.K. (including UNC), and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). This project was also funded by USAID.

2015 – Andrew Koltun: To the Last Drop: Water System Quality Studies in Rural Uganda

Andrew Koltun received the 2015 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for his work with To the Last Drop: Water System Quality Studies in Rural Uganda. In partnership with Raising the Village, Koltun will travel to four partner villages and test several springs for contaminants. The data will be used to decide how to mitigate future contamination. Andrew will work with local staff and villagers on how to continue the initiative to ensure consistently clean water.

2014 – William Gerhard ’14: Galapagos Science Center Water Survey

The inaugural Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship was presented to William Gerhard ’14, a biology major from Charlotte, for his work evaluating the effectiveness of new drinking water infrastructure systems on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal. After spending two summers researching old and new drinking water systems, Gerhard spent six weeks performing microbial and physical analyses of the new infrastructure systems. By executing this study and providing the results to the local government, funding and resources can be more efficiently allocated to provide clean drinking water to the 7,000 residents of San Cristobal island and the tens of thousands of tourists who pass through each year. In addition, Gerhard worked with local scientists to create a lab that assessed the effectiveness of water treatment and distribution systems on the island.