Water Resources and Policy Initiatives

Funding a First Generation Dream - From Paid Internship to Doctoral Scholarship



Miriam Morua Catalan is the recipient of a $20,000 Water Resources and Policy Initiatives/USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Watershed Management Doctoral Scholarship. The scholarship program provides financial assistance to underrepresented students in the natural and social and behavioral sciences to increase their retention and graduation rates. The program also addresses the underrepresented professional workforce in food, agricultural and natural resource systems. To date, approximately $240,000 has been awarded to students pursuing a doctorate.

While attending California State University, Fullerton, Catalan obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology with an emphasis in cellular biology and plant ecology. During that time, Catalan worked in the Plants & H2O Lab with Dr. H. Jochen Schenk, where she became interested in understanding how the physiology of plants influenced the environment they survived in and how the availability of water can restrict physiological functions. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on improving agricultural irrigation strategies and measuring in-situ conductance with plantbased sensing for plants in regions affected by drought and groundwater depletion. She participated in two research-based experience programs, which fostered her interests in working with the United States Department of Agriculture. As an undergraduate, she took part in the U-ACRE project, and as a graduate student, she interned with the CSU’s Water Resources and Policy Initiatives USDA program. She also worked on a collaborative project with Dynamax Inc. and the California Avocado Commission as part of the 2016 Innovative Conservation Program to measure sap flow in stems to determine the actual water needs of young Hass avocado trees grown in soil berms.

As a doctoral student, she will continue working with plant-based methods that measure sap flow and water potential. Her current research focuses on comparing two sap flow methods, heat dissipation and heat field deformation. As part of her dissertation, she will work with the Texas Water Observatory, a program whose research efforts are to monitor near real-time data of water, carbon and energy fluxes to understand and model water resources and assess their sustainability in Texas and the southern United States. Catalan will collect data on plant water potential (leaf and stem) and sap flow across various land types to assess changes in water potential to natural regional gradients. She’ll also estimate transpiration flow to understand plant water stress thresholds to regions exposed to extreme climatic events and at risk due to water shortages from watershed depletion.

The scholarship will help fund Catalan’s research and support her throughout her doctoral program. After receiving her doctorate, Catalan wants to work as a plant physiologist with the Water Management and Systems Research unit in the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Catalan hopes to inspire other first-generation and minority students to reach higher and follow their dreams. She is passionate about continuing research that educates the public so as to drive change faster. She dedicates this award to her mentors, friends and family, especially her husband and daughter, for supporting her throughout this journey.