Source: Shannon McCarragher, Co-PI

NSF-REU Collaborative Site: The Socio-Ecological Role of Greenways in Urban Systems

-An Interdisciplinary Approach

An undergraduate research experience sponsored by the National Science Foundation (Awards: NSF SMA- 2149909 and 2150093)

Source: Angela Foster, UTC University Photographer

Research Overview

The global human population is rapidly increasing and much of that increase is happening in cities. Because of this growth, cities face numerous distinct challenges related to their ability to maintain overall stability amid global change (e.g., climate change, globalization, pandemics, urbanization, etc.).

Greenways serve as an interface between human and natural systems across urban environments and thus may serve as a means for enhancing urban resilience. Today, most major US cities have features they identify as greenways or open streets. We argue that the impact of greenways will vary depending upon the social and ecological characteristics of the greenway and the size of the city in which it is found.

In this REU Site, undergraduates will conduct primary interdisciplinary research and activities to assess the socio-ecological characteristics of greenways within multiple cities that reflect various stages of future urban growth.

Two broad questions drive this research experience:

  • What are the social and ecological drivers of microclimate and human usage patterns in urban greenway networks from a megacity scale to a finer rural scale that captures a range of human experiences?
  • How can empirical evidence on urban greenway dynamics inform the broader scientific community and local community stakeholders about ways to mitigate environmental impacts and social disparities that lead to more resilient cities?
Source: Shannon McCarragher, Co-PI

Program Features

Students will gain the following skills from their experience:

  • Develop and use effective communication skills across interdisciplinary lines and with various community stakeholders;
  • Integrate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) into socio-ecological research;
  • Execute appropriate methods for collecting socio-ecological data;
  • Analyze and evaluate socio-political and scientific interpretations of information;
  • Evaluate the political, ethical, and environmental implications involved in conducting and disseminating community-engaged research;
  • Develop appreciation for the variety of accepted practices and ethical values that guide the responsible conduct of scientific research.

Host Institutions and Cities

Each year, beginning in 2023, the REU application period will open in January and close in mid-March. Year one will be hosted at UTC, year two at SIUE, and year three at UTC.

Program Eligibility

To be eligible, undergraduate students must have finished their freshman year in good academic standing (rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a cumulative GPA of 2.3 or higher).

Targeted fields of study: environmental studies, geography, biology, political science, sociology, and related fields.

Important 2023 Dates:

January 1: Application opens
February 28: Applications due
March 31: Students notified of acceptance
May 21: Students arrive to REU site
May 22-July 28: Students participate in REU site research experience

Application Requirements

This is a 10-week undergraduate research experience. We aim to recruit 10 students to participate in this innovative and exciting program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Requirements for admission include:

  • Record of professional experience (resume or CV)
  • Unofficial transcript
  • Statement of interest (750-1000 words)
  • 1-2 Letters of recommendation (Optional)

We are aware that some of these criteria may serve as a barrier to underrepresented students in interdisciplinary research. Therefore, we will allow for flexibility in recruitment on a case-by-case basis. Promising students without letters of recommendation will not be excluded from the application process.

Please contact the PIs with any questions about the application (see end of page).

Meet the Mentors

Dr. DeAnna E. Beasley (PI – UTC)

Dr. Beasley is an Assistant Professor in the Biology, Geology, and Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her current research explores the implications of urbanization on insect development and biodiversity.

Dr. Shannon McCarragher (PI – SIUE)

Dr. McCarragher is an Assistant Professor of Biogeography in the Geography and Geographic Information Sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her current research explores the dynamic nature of urban systems in the context of biodiversity conservation, habitat connectivity, global change, and environmental justice.

Dr. Chris Acuff (Co-PI – UTC)

Dr. Acuff is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Political Science and Public Service at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His current research is focused on assessing citizen participation, representation, and equity in local government.

Dr. James Hanlon (Co-PI – SIUE)

Dr. Hanlon is an Associate Professor of Geography in the Geography and Geographic Information Sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is also the Director of the SIUE Institute for Urban Research. His research focuses on low-income housing policy and racial justice.

Meet the Students

2023 Cohort

Hosted at UTC – Study Site: Chattanooga Greenways

2024 Cohort

Hosted at SIUE – Study Site: Edwardsville Greenways

2025 Cohort

Hosted at UTC – Study Site: Cleveland Greenways

For general questions about this NSF-REU: