Equitable, Multi-Scale Decision-Making Towards Human and Ecosystem Health

Rivers support communities and landscapes in important ways- from providing food and clean water, to acting as pathways for transporting goods and travel corridors for organisms, to serving in cultural and spiritual roles for people. Despite their importance, many river systems are highly contaminated due to decades of industrial activity, pesticide runoff, water treatment discharges, and urban runoff. Compared to visible changes in water quantity, water quality is an ‘invisible water crisis’. As this crisis escalates, water quality problems in watersheds and communities will require a workforce capable of integrating scientific information, public policy, and the knowledge and concerns of affected populations.

The need for such a workforce is best exemplified by the issues facing Native American tribes. Protection of water quality is important to Native people’s traditional culture, way of life, self-determination, and economy. As original caretakers, they hold vital traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that consists of sophisticated cultural, historical, and spiritual ways of understanding region-specific ecosystems and environmental restoration.

To bring about this workforce, Washington State University was awarded a National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) to address challenges in rivers, watersheds, and communities (RWC) in the Columbia River Basin (CRB), as they relate to human and ecosystem health. The RWC NRT brings together a set of core skills and knowledge into a community engagement model to achieve trainee competencies for diverse careers, and to achieve meaningful, positive change in environmental and human communities dependent on river systems.

Student Training Program

The RWC program is looking to attract students with diverse experiences, interests and cultural backgrounds in the areas of biology, ecology, environmental science, earth science, environmental engineering, environmental sociology, political science, and water resources. In addition to the M.S. or Ph.D., students will achieve a ScienCE certificate in Community Engagement. A mix of NSF, WSU and agency funds are available to fully support research and trainee stipends; and the possibility of add-on funding to achieve the ScienCE certificate after completion of RWC core courses. NSF funded NRT students must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., its territories or its possessions.​

Students will benefit from

  • Student-centered mentoring
  • Community engagement
  • Science communication
  • Indigenous Research Methods
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Quantitative & Computational Skills

Program details

As part of the student degree program, students will be part of a core program which will include an immersion field course, the interdisciplinary water science and management course, a RWC environmental health seminar, a leadership development course, an integrated solutions experience course, and a student-specific community engagement experience. Students will continually contribute to the CRB Living Atlas, a visual- and data-based representation of social-ecological systems to share and synthesize information to communities and the public.

Student-centered Mentoring

Upon selection, students are committed to the RWC program for the duration of their Ph.D. or M.S. program, and the program faculty will work with the student to initiate a trainee development plan. Through the RWC partners and collaboration network, students will have access to external mentors for preparation for diverse careers. Participating faculty will be required to attend to facilitate successful student mentoring within the community engagement model.

We are committed to promote, create, and sustain an inclusive traineeship program and community environment. The RWC program will achieve this by fostering collaborative partnerships, engaging cultural differences, promoting dialogue, advancing knowledge, and providing community spaces.

Partners and Collaborators

WSU Center for Native American Research and Collaboration; Northwest, Plateau and Coastal Tribes; USGS; EPA Restoration Working Group; the Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission; the Spokane River Forum, the Center for Interdisciplinarity, and more!


Join the 2023 cohort by applying by the priority date of November 15, 2022. To apply, prospective students need to provide a statement of interest, a letter of support, and a resume. For more information see How to Apply, or contact us at cereo@wsu.edu.

The RWC NRT is funded by the National Science Foundation (DGE 2125758)