Water Institute Graduate Fellows Program: 2015 Cohort

Hydrologic transformation in the Amazon basin: reconciling economy, society, and the environment in the world’s largest watershed

The goal for the 2015 Water Institute Graduate Fellows cohort was to bring together Amazon Dams Network (ADN) faculty and graduate fellows from the biophysical and social sciences to investigate the complex and interconnected set of impacts brought about by the construction and operation of hydroelectric dams and associated infrastructure in the Amazon. The ADN was initiated in 2012 as an interdisciplinary effort to provide an integrated understanding of the two-way links between energy production, environmental conservation and human well-being in the Amazonian region. The program is hosted in the Tropical Conservation and Development Program in the Center for Latin American Studies, which accumulates more than 30 years of experience on training, research and capacity-building in the region. The faculty-student cohort collaboratively carried out research to fill critical knowledge gaps in a variety of interdisciplinary research themes:


  • interactions among deforestation, land use, and hydrology;
  • feedbacks between watershed processes and riverine ecohydrology;
  • fisheries dynamics in transforming watersheds;
  • land conflict and social contention in the wake of dam projects;
  • dam impacts on economy, deforestation, and disease; and
  • economic transformation of the Amazon Basin from massive infrastructure buildup



A principal focus of the 2015 WIGF program was the academic training and professional development of a cadre of motivated and creative young scientists committed to seeking solutions to the growing set of complex, global challenges facing society. Through the program, fellows built three primary proficiencies: 1) competence in their research area; 2) the ability to work collaboratively across disciplines and to bridge the gap between academy and society to create new actionable knowledge and insight; and 3) an ability to communicate and teach complex topics to a global audience with a diversity of educational and cultural backgrounds. Students gained disciplinary proficiency though coursework and research, and developed and honed skills in collaboration, communication, and teaching through a set of integrative activities, including:

Education – The 2015 WIGF program aimed to broaden Fellows’ disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths. The educational experience blended experiential learning, academic course work, research, training and service. Each Fellow took a set of core courses focusing on interdisciplinary research and practice. A biweekly seminar of the faculty-student cohort (and additional project participants) focused on pertinent scientific literature, current developments in the Amazon, and professional growth. Fellows were also asked to teach courses as part of their educational training.
Research – Each Fellow had a home department (i.e., Environmental Engineering Sciences, Geography, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, or School of Natural Resources and Environment) and crafted a dissertation around one of the select research themes, contributing to the overall program of research on the hydrologic transformation in the Amazon basin. Participating faculty and fellows brought their expertise to the team and were fully committed to develop an integrative, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.
In total the 2015 WIGF Cohort obtained over $745 K in external funding via collective and individual research and travel grants. The cohort and their collaborators published twenty-two papers (view publications
Outreach – Opportunities for professional development and international engagement consisted of: (1) webinars to enable frequent interaction with Brazilian colleagues; (2)student development of interactive learning modules to communicate about research focal areas to the broader society ; and (3) trips to visit Amazonian watersheds in order to interact with stakeholders and collaborators in Brazil.