Penn State Water Initiative

Penn State has a long and rich history of engaged, innovative, and impactful water and water-related research. This portfolio of work encompasses the natural, social, and health sciences, engineering, policy and law, communications, the arts, and more. Building on this breadth and depth of expertise, Penn State has launched a University-wide Water Initiative, involving faculty and staff engaged in research, teaching, and outreach.

The Penn State Water Initiative brings together faculty, staff, and students from across the University, building upon long-standing strengths in engineering, natural, and social sciences, while expanding engagement with the health sciences, law and policy, emerging technologies, arts and the humanities, and other disciplines.

Areas of Emphasis

The Initiative benefits the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and communities around the world by advancing the understanding and demonstrating solutions in the areas of emphasis below.

Protecting Public Health and the Environment

Advancing understanding of human and ecological health and ecosystem services, supporting vibrant and sustainable economies, and developing solutions to address both enduring water quality problems and contaminants of emerging concern.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

Studying the connection between water and human biology is more important now than ever with changing climates and projections of increased water and food insecurity facing a growing global population ...the quantity and quality of our water are woven into the intersections between human health, culture, and biology, just as they are for food.

Assistant Professor, Biobehavioral Health who is working on new ways to research water

Advancing Resilient Communities on a Dynamic Earth

Strengthening understanding and modeling of fundamental Earth processes across scales, including shifts in all aspects of the hydrosphere and related social and ecological implications, and developing and demonstrating innovations that enhance resilience through actionable climate solutions.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

Urban growth boundaries created to restrict land development in order to decrease negative impacts on people and the environment can have the reverse effect on water quality.

Penn State research into anti-sprawl policies has discovered that urban growth boundaries created to restrict land development in order to decrease negative impacts on people and the environment can have the reverse effect on water quality.

Driving Innovation and Technology

Developing and deploying next-generation tools, techniques, materials and processes; advancing data-driven solutions; and actively using the University as a living lab in the service of meeting the world’s most pressing water challenges.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

Guiding Social Action, Policy, and Corporate Transformation

Strengthening public governance, water ethics, and environmental justice, enhancing water security at individual to national scales, improving private sector performance, and integrating the arts and humanities for improved awareness, understanding, and culturally appropriate solutions.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

Deciding where and how to invest is complicated by issues of equity and social justice because the very structure of our communities embeds racist practices of the past. ...How society redresses past injustices, and as importantly, does not perpetuate the effects of racist policies, is a work in progress.

Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture who's work with students seeks to redress a flood of historic injustices.

Cross-Cutting Strategies

The Initiative further advances the University’s land-grant mission through actions on two cross-cutting strategies:

Transforming Water Education and Student Opportunities

Expanding formal (degreed) and extracurricular opportunities that engage our graduate and undergraduate students and expose them to cross-disciplinary and diverse perspectives on water to enhance their Penn State experience and strengthen their knowledge and networks for an impactful future.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

Students conduct water research field experiments at a lake

Through the establishment of a water graduate degree program and opportunities such as the Visiting Water Scholars Program, the Water Initiative encourages innovative cross-college and interdisciplinary research and education.

Engaging People, Communities, and Partner Institutions

Supporting current and future community-based water initiatives, providing outreach and extension services, identifying and developing public, private, and civil society partnerships strategic to University water priorities, and enhancing water-related communications.

Centers and initiatives in this area:

A Penn State team is researching newly discovered microbes capable of rapid removal of toxic metals in acidic environments. Penn State students are helping volunteer citizen groups to map the watershed to identify sources of pollution in need of treatment.