WC-12 Capacity Building through Strategic Partnerships: Leveraging Innovative Tools, Applied Research and Big Data

The most urgent challenges at the water-energy-food nexus disproportionately impact low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Effective strategies to address these challenges must utilize cross-sectoral partnerships and build capacity in LMICs.

This session will highlight specific efforts aimed at strengthening LMICs’ capacity to address nexus challenges through partnerships that leverage innovative tools, support applied research activities, and harness the use of big data. It will be comprised of three main activities:

highlighting inter-agency and -governmental initiatives led by NASA and USAID;
presentations on optimal practices, opportunities and challenges by representatives from the private sector and interdisciplinary collaborators at research institutions; and,
networking and facilitated discussions to identify further areas of collaboration and priorities for upcoming efforts.


  • Clare Muhoro, Science Partnerships Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of Chemistry, Towson University
  • Christine Lee, Scientific Applications Engineer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Associate Program Manager, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Applied Sciences Water Resources


  • Marc Dettmann, Project Manager, U.S. Water Partnership
  • Mekonnen Gebremichael, Associate Professor, Hydrology and Water Resources, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Stephanie Granger, Technical Staff, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Land Surface Hydrology Group
  • Ku McMahan, Team Lead, Securing Water for Food GCD, U.S. Global Development Lab, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Forrest Melton, Senior Research Scientist, Ames Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Esther Obonyo, Associate Professor of Engineering Design and Architectural Engineering, Pennsylvania State University
  • Nancy D. Searby, Capacity Building Program Manager, Applied Sciences Program, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters Earth Sciences Division

Professor Clare Muhoro is the Science Partnerships Advisor in the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID. She is activity manager for the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) and U.S.-Pakistan Science and Technology Cooperation Programs. Prof. Muhoro is also Associate Professor of Chemistry at Towson University, Maryland. Her research focuses on the aquatic chemical fate of organic pesticides in tropical environments in Mexico, Ecuador, and Kenya. Her group seeks to understand the organic mechanisms of pesticide decay under pre-determined field conditions using spectroscopic techniques. She serves on the board of the Committee for the Advancement of Women in Science (COACh) to provide career-success training to women scientists around the world. Prof. Muhoro received her PhD in organometallic chemistry from Yale University. (240-626-3771; cmuhoro@usaid.gov)

Christine Lee has a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UCLA, studying coastal water quality issues and developing rapid, viability-based methods for testing water for bacteria. Currently, Christine focuses on supporting and pursuing program and applied research opportunities in water resources and water quality. Her work includes developing improved approaches to monitoring water quality (in situ and using remote sensing), improving access to and use of NASA data to address water resources challenges, and leading applications for ECOSTRESS (2017 launch window), a thermal instrument with drought monitoring and agriculture applications.

Marc Dettmann currently manages a portfolio of water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria for The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative. In addition he executes U.S. Water Partnership activities and develops concepts for partner engagement. He researched water and sanitation issues for the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and also worked on water and climate change issues for the UNDP Water Governance Program-Arab States in Cairo, Egypt. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, where he focused on water resources.

Mekonnen Gebremichael works on understanding and prediction of hydrological fluxes on a range of spatial and temporal scales, advancing the use of satellite observations for water resource applications, uncertainty analysis of hydrological estimations and forecasts, transboundary river basin management, water resource management and governance in developing countries, and impact of hydrological and climate changes on vector-borne diseases. Dr. Gebremichael recently organized a workshop which addressed the scientific, engineering, and data challenges and opportunities in understanding the coupled food-energy-water systems in California. (310-794- 4239; mekonnen@seas.ucla.edu)

Stephanie Granger has more than twenty-five years of experience in Earth science remote sensing studies, ranging from large satellite missions to airborne experiments. Her research interests include connecting science and decision-making, stakeholder engagement, and use of Earth science information for water management and climate adaptation. She is focused on developing programs and projects in support of agriculture and water supply sustainability. She leads a project to build capacity to apply remote sensing observations for drought and agriculture applications in East Africa. (818-354-5683; Stephanie.L.Granger@jpl.nasa.gov)

Dr. Ku McMahan leads the Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development, which was launched by USAID and the Government of Sweden the first week of September 2013 during World Water Week in Stockholm. Over the last two years, of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of South Africa have joined as Founding Partners. Through Securing Water for Food, the partners have worked to identify and accelerate science and technology innovations and market-driven approaches that improve water sustainability to boost food security and ultimately alleviate poverty. Securing Water for Food aims to increase access to innovations that help farmers produce more food with less water, enhance water storage, and improve the use of saline water and soils to produce food. (571-309-8859; lmcmahan@usaid.gov)

Forrest Melton is a Senior Research Scientist with the NASA Ames Cooperative for Research in Earth Science and Technology (ARC-CREST) and with California State University, Monterey Bay. Since 2003, he has worked in the Ecological Forecasting Lab at NASA Ames Research Center on the development of modeling and data assimilation frameworks including the Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) and the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX). His research addresses applications of satellite data, climate data, and high performance computing to improve management of natural resources and increase resiliency to climate change. (forrest.s.melton@nasa.gov)

Esther Obonyo is an Associate Professor of Engineering Design and Architectural Engineering at the Department of Architectural Engineering, Pennsylvania State University. Prior to that she was an Associate Professor at the University of Florida’s (UF) Rinker School of Construction Management and also a faculty entrepreneurship Fellow at UF’s Warrington College of Business. She has worked as a Construction Engineer, Project Manager and Innovations Analyst in several Engineering and Construction Companies in Kenya, the UK and the US. She holds a BA in Building Economics from University of Nairobi, MA in Architecture from University of Nottingham and a Doctor of Engineering from Loughborough University. Esther’s research interest cuts across the following themes: climate change and extreme weather events, environmental sustainability, intelligent information and knowledge-based systems for productivity improvement and entrepreneurship. Prof. Obonyo is a Jefferson Science Fellow andserves as a senior science advisor on the Research Partnerships for Development Team under the Center for Data, Analysis, and Research on issues related to improving the generation and use of scientific research to address development challenges. (eobonyo@usaid.gov)

Nancy Serby leads ASP’s efforts to build skills touse Earth observations and models to make decisions in the US and developing countries. Nancy oversees three NASA Center-based projects – DEVELOP, SERVIR, and Applied Remote Sensing Training. These projects and international capacity building efforts through the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) aim to improve the ability of local, regional, state, national, and multi-national stakeholders to use Earth observations to address disasters, ecosystems, biodiversity, weather, water, climate, health, energy, and agriculture decisions. Nancy is also leading efforts to develop alliances with non-traditional partners. (nancy.d.searby@nasa.gov)


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