SBS Professors Play Central Role in UA and French Research Collaboration

The University of Arizona and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) have created a UMI (Unite Mixte Internationale/Joint International Unit) based at the UA on Water, Environment and Public Policy. The UMI is housed in the UA Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy and involves researchers from across campus.

The fact that the UA was chosen as the site for the UMI is a significant honor. There are about 25 UMIs across the globe, and this is the first one specializing in the social and natural sciences and the only one in the U.S. addressing environmental issues. The UA was chosen because of its expertise in water and environmental science and management, and its standing as a land-grant university.

The agreement between the UA and CNRS, which started in 2008, was facilitated by Udall Center deputy director Robert Varady and Graciela Schneier-Madanes. Schneier-Madanes is a senior researcher and director of “rés-EAU-ville” (an urban water research network) at CNRS and a visiting professor at the Udall Center and the School of Geography and Development (SGD).

Varady explains that the CNRS is a French analogue of the U.S. National Science Foundation, the major difference being that CNRS directly conducts research in dozens of national laboratories. CNRS places research institutes at foreign campuses to promote direct exchanges between scientists. The CNRS pays the salaries of French scientists who then come to the UA to collaborate with researchers. The UMI also serves as an umbrella under which the researchers can secure other grants.

Currently, some of the UMI researchers have a “mobility” grant — designed to encourage international exchanges — from the Partner University Fund (PUF). SBS researchers involved in the grant include J.P. Jones, Paul Robbins, Carl Bauer, Christopher Scott, and Stuart Marsh from the School of Geography and Development, and Margaret Wilder from the Center for Latin American Studies and geography and development (co-appointed in the Udall Center).

“The UMI Program and Graciela Schneier-Madanes’ broad engagement with European and Latin American water research networks has opened doors for me and many other researchers in SBS,” said Wilder.

For example, Wilder and Schneier-Madanes are completing a review article on the state of water governance in Latin America, based on European, North American, and Latin American perspectives. UMI interns from France spent six months helping with background research for the project.

Other faculty have spent short stays as visiting researchers at the prestigious CNRS in Paris, thanks to the UMI and PUF connections, including Barbara Morehouse, associate director of the UA’s Institute for the Environment and affiliated faculty in the School of Geography and Development.  

Wilder added, “Bob Varady’s connections with French and other international research institutions during his sabbatical at the UN Hydrological Programme a few years ago led to this connection with Graciela, and has snowballed into some excellent exchanges for a number of us in SBS and in the enviro community at the UA.”

In turn, the UA connection is also beneficial for Schneier-Madanes, who is collaborating on numerous projects, including some recently-submitted grant proposals. CNRS associate Agathe Euzen was a visiting CNRS scholar under the UMI program for 18 months. Although her term ended in September, Euzen, an expert on perceptions of water, is collaborating with Stephanie Buechler (Geography) and Morehouse on different projects.

Geography interim director Carl Bauer also worked with Schneier-Madanes in a consortium on “Water, Cities, and Land: Governance and Access to Water in the Americas.” The consortium sponsored a conference in June in Santiago, Chile. SGD students Manuel Prieto and David Tecklin, both of whom are writing dissertations involving Chilean water markets and institutions, were involved in the conference.

Other SBS graduate students have also benefited from the UMI program. One of Wilder’s graduate students, third-year Ph.D. candidate Jamie McEvoy, received PUF funding to conduct research in Paris and Barcelona on the social impacts and technology of desalination plants, part of a comparative analysis she is conducting with new desalination plants planned for northwest Mexico (Baja California Sur and Sonora).

In addition, geography graduate student Andrea Prichard went to France for six weeks this past summer as part of the PUF exchange. She was at the Sisyphe water research center housed at the hydrology department at the University of Paris.

“I participated in an exchange based on the overall research project "Water, Environment, and Urban Development: US and EU Case Studies" which compares the Ile-de-France region of France and the urban growth corridor of Arizona in terms of urban sprawl's impact on water resources,” said Prichard. “Each student participant works on specific case study, and my contribution relates to the border area of Ambos Nogales, which has been experiencing high rates of urbanization for a limited water resource.

“I had planned a hydrological study of monsoonal flooding, so I was very fortunate to get training in the laboratory facilities for my studies,” added Prichard. “Furthermore, I attended numerous events and talks and met several students and professors who offered great mentorship. I also participated in a symposium in Lille on water governance and gave a presentation on my work while at Sisyphe, so it was a very beneficial experience for me.”

Photo Caption: Graduate student Andrea Prichard standing on a giant map of France in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.