Rachel Scarlett

Rachel Scarlett Profile Picture
Home Department:
Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Mentor / Lab:
Dr. Sara McMillan

Specific Research Area / Project:
Rhythms of Urban Rivers: A Socio-environmental Investigation of Stormwater

Lab / Personal work-related websites:
Personal Website

Research Profile:

Urban stormwater has drawn the attention of water managers because of its deleterious impacts on flooding and water quality in surrounding streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal zones. The magnitude of this problem is underscored in the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”, where excess nitrogen and phosphorus from urban and agricultural lands trigger algal blooms that subsequently lead to oxygen depletion and fish kills. Cities worldwide are implementing stream restoration initiatives to improve water quality and flooding risk. Researchers and local communities are beginning to highlight the importance of the broader social dimensions of water management—including community stewardship of water bodies and support for mitigation policies—as integral to a successful restoration. Recent studies have suggested that peoples’ environmental experiences, like the flooding of their homes, influence their sociopolitical engagement in water management. However, there is a lack of attention towards the interaction between environmental experiences and the historical marginalization of communities that work simultaneously to define peoples’ shared experiences related to water bodies and their subsequent actions to adapt to environmental changes.

My dissertation research lies at this nexus between ecological and social systems related to stormwater management. Two questions guide my dissertation: 1) how do stream ecosystems respond to watershed mitigation via stormwater management, and 2) what are the socioeconomic and biophysical drivers of peoples’ engagement in stormwater management? Ultimately, my dissertation will contribute to a socioecological understanding of cities and highlight the complex processes that influence engagement in water management.

Rachel Scarlett Research Picture

About Me:

I completed my undergraduate education at the University of California Santa Barbara. I was drawn to both Environmental Science and Black Studies. So much so that I was an undergraduate researcher in a soil science lab (Dr. Jennifer King’s Lab), and I completed my senior thesis in the Black Studies Department. I dove deeply into literature on both social justice and environmental science which caused me to think frequently about environmental justice—even though this course was not offered at the time. I knew that I wanted my graduate program to allow me the flexibility to study both environmental science and social justice simultaneously.

One of my favorite moments in the Ecological Sciences and Engineering (ESE) program was during the 2016 ESE Symposium. We hosted a conference on polarization and extreme thought around the environment and society. It was the perfect time for this topic as the 2016 election was beginning (we all know how that transpired). During the symposium, I hosted an Art Workshop with an IGP student in Electronic and Time-based Art, Boyd Smith, where we encourage attendees to create art that expressed a polarizing topic. I enjoyed this collaboration with Boyd as he illustrated how to use color and materials to express conflicting points of view on the environment—a stark contrast to my mostly quantitative way of thinking. Fantastic artwork resulted as well! IGP has facilitated many of these cross-discipline collaborations that have challenged me intellectually.

My ultimate goal is to teach and train students to think beyond disciplinary silos and engage in culturally relevant conversation on global and local socio-environmental change. Further, I strive to envision STEM fields a critical to knowledge production on socio-environmental justice and solving complex environmental issues.


  • https://racheldscarlett.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/6/8/116831877/scarlett_cv_2020-04-24.pdf


  • https://racheldscarlett.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/6/8/116831877/scarlett_cv_2020-04-24.pdf


  • https://racheldscarlett.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/6/8/116831877/scarlett_cv_2020-04-24.pdf


  • Special Session Organizer, Inequitable Waterscapes: Examining Environmental Justice in Aquatic Systems, Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting, June 2020 (cancelled).
  • Member, Society for Freshwater Science, 2018-2020.
  • Volunteer, Susan B. Butler Center Women’s Pre-Tenure Conference, Purdue University, 2017-2019.

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