Civil engineering student receives Department of Defense fellowship


By Sarah Small

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a Peace Corp volunteer in Paraguay, Sarah Torhan witnessed the reality of living with food, energy and water insecurity, as well as the impacts of environmental degradation on local populations. Recently, Torhan, now a second-year doctoral student in the Penn State Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, received a Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship to continue research inspired by her experience. 

The NDSEG fellowship is “awarded in recognition of academic excellence and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) achievements,” according to the fellowship offer letter. The fellowship covers full tuition, mandatory fees and certain travel and professional development costs for up to three years, as well as a living stipend. 

Torhan will use the fellowship to research and evaluate geospatial land use, demographic and hydrological information and analyze their effects on the access and availability of food-energy-water resources in Paraguay. According to Torhan, her work couples quantitative and qualitative methods to create knowledge on the modeling of natural resources in data-scarce regions with social and political complexities.  

My previous experience in the Peace Corps challenged my worldview and helped me to recognize the importance of coupling modern engineering with education, tangible environmental conservation and viable economic gains,” she said. “Next year, I will travel to Paraguay for fieldwork to survey and interview different stakeholders to understand their relationships with natural resources and the environment. Engaging with my Paraguayan friends and former colleagues to interpret and disseminate results will be fundamental to ensure that we conduct ethical and useful research practices.”  

Caitlin Grady, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Torhan’s adviser, said that Torhan’s previous experiences have led to her successes as a graduate student, and the NDSEG fellowship will help launch the next stage of her career. 

Since joining Penn State, Sarah has already accomplished tremendous things, including leading an international collaboration that studied climate adaptations to food, energy and water hazards,” Grady said. “This work has resulted in the publication of an article in one of our field’s preeminent journals, Earth’s Future. With the NDSEG fellowship, she will be able to take on important international environmental research which will further partnerships between the United States and Paraguay. 


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations