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REU Site: Collaborative Research: Water Resources and Quality in the Riviera Maya, Mexico


This REU site will engage students in research related to water resource management issues in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Science and engineering undergraduate students will work with faculty mentors from Northern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University, and the Yucatan Center of Scientific Research. Student projects will be interconnected and broadly related to the important groundwater resources of the area. Projects will also explore how this vital resource is impacted by human activities with a focus on the economically important tourism industry. More specific areas of study include the impacts of groundwater extraction, using geophysical methods to characterize the groundwater system, natural and human-caused impacts on groundwater chemistry, groundwater contamination and impacts on public health, and local perceptions of the quality of groundwater in the Yucatan. The goals for participants of this REU site include: developing scientific skills in the field and laboratory, developing a global perspective of water resource issues, building communication skills, and developing appreciation for international scientific collaborations. The student projects will be interconnected to better understand the water issues in Yucatan within a cultural and historical context. Because the research project is in Mexico and encompasses a cultural aspect, students interested in the region will be attracted to apply. In addition to carrying out research, the students will produce materials for online platforms to share information with the public, make presentations in Mexico to local officials about the research findings, and publish the results in open access journals. Through this work, the students and faculty will approach their work from multiple areas of expertise and address fundamental questions about the use of water resources.<br/><br/>During an eight-week period, this REU Site will provide a high-quality research environment and mentoring to a diverse group of 8 undergraduate students that may not otherwise have the opportunity to be engaged in scientific activities in an international context. The summer experience will take place in three phases. (1) Participants will spend two weeks at Northern Illinois University where students will define the research they will pursue in the field, participate in ethics training, discuss the relationship between culture and water issues in Yucatan, receive safety and travel information, and virtually meet the team members from Mexico. (2) The next four weeks will be spent in Mexico sampling and collecting field data. The participants will stay in local neighborhoods, away from the tourist areas to gain more in-depth appreciation for the culture. During this period, participants will be working side by side with Mexican scientists and students. (3) During the last two weeks participants will return to Northern Illinois University to continue with data analyses and synthesis. Through the combination of high-quality research, international collaboration, development of mentor-mentee relationships, and an immersive experience, the project aims in to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in the sciences, while also providing training to develop the students into high-caliber scientists who will be well prepared to continue in graduate studies or professional careers.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Kenneth Voglesonger
Northern Illinois University
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