Two Students Receive Mary and Randall Hack ‘69 Graduate Award

Holly P. Welles ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Two graduate students were selected to receive the Mary and Randall Hack ‘69 Graduate Award in support of their innovative research on water and water-related topics with implications for the environment. The 2014 recipients are Stephanie Debats and Brianne Smith, both from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Stephanie Debats

Stephanie DebatsFor her dissertation research, Stephanie Debats is combining fieldwork in rural farming communities together with cutting edge remote sensing and modeling techniques with the goal of advancing the understanding of how water influences agricultural sustainability.  In particular, she is interested in developing more advanced techniques for remotely monitoring agricultural crop development under conditions of changing climate in the United States (U.S.) and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Food security is lacking in many regions of the world experiencing increasing variability in temperatures, rainfall, and soil moisture. During certain developmental stages, crops are highly sensitive to adverse climatic conditions, resulting in yield decreases or crop failure,” said Debats.  “Therefore, ongoing crop progress monitoring is important for providing vital information about crop health and development, harvest schedules, and best water management practices.

“The Hack Award is providing funding for workshops and conferences critical for strengthening my skills in remote sensing, statistical machine learning, and computer vision.  It also is supporting my Zambian farmer text messaging pilot project and collection of validation data sets for my statistical model.  Overall, it is furthering my ultimate goal of developing and validating a remote-sensing based crop progress monitoring system in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Brianne Smith

Brianne SmithBrianne Smith’s is taking an interdisciplinary approach to her dissertation research on flash flood severity and frequency across the U.S..

“My underlying goal is to find ways to reduce injuries, damage, and fatalities from flash flooding. Flooding causes more fatalities in the U.S. annually than does any other natural disaster including tornadoes and hurricanes. The majority of these fatalities are from flash floods. My dissertation work is focused upon improving the understanding of the physical mechanisms that lead to extreme rainfall and flash flooding in urban areas,” said Smith. 

She plans to use her Hack funds to help categorize the severity of flash flooding based upon damages and to see how spatial distribution of flash flooding may correlate to spatial distribution of economic damages, fatalities, and flood reports. “I am very appreciative of the support afforded to me by this generous award,” said Smith.

Funds from the Mary and Randall Hack ‘69 Graduate Award are administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute and may be used for a range of purposes including: summer stipend, fieldwork, travel, conference participation, equipment, and other costs associated with data analysis and facilities use. Student projects from a broad range of disciplines are eligible for consideration.