Water Whys

Pictured: Rock outcroppings along a river that show a significant drop in the water level. | Photo: Drew Bennett


The Water Whys team seeks to develop scientifically accurate and easy-to-understand graphical answers to water questions. We are focused on developing succinct visual explanations of scientific processes that can help the public better understand current events. For example, why is flooding more likely after a fire? Or, how is the snowpack in Colorado connected to farmers in Arizona? These topics are already being covered in the media, often by broadcast meteorologists, but news reports often lack clear, scientifically accurate visuals that can aid explanations. Our team will work directly with broadcasters and print journalists to develop high-quality graphics that can be used on air and in print. 

VIP students will work collaboratively with faculty in hydrology, art, and journalism to learn what it takes to make scientifically accurate, visually effective and accessible communication graphics geared toward a diverse and multi-lingual public. Professional broadcast meteorologists and other print and broadcast journalists will act as ‘clients’ each semester. They will help define the topics they would like to explain to the public. Our goal is to create graphics that the clients will use directly on air, in social media, and/or in print publications. In addition to learning about graphic communication, as students progress through the program, they will be given increasing responsibility, leading to collaborations with our clients to distill their needs into a project design. 

We seek to bring together a truly interdisciplinary group of students with expertise in graphic design, journalism, and physical sciences. All students will learn about the physical processes we will be representing as well as the science behind effective communication. As a group, we will explore what it means to make visuals that are accessible and how to measure the effectiveness of our communication across a diverse public.

Issues Involved or Addressed

  • Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences: We will be developing graphical representations that are scientifically sound representations of physical processes in the hydrologic cycle. 
  • Climate Change: Many of the extreme events we will be focusing on are being amplified by climate change, and we will specifically explore how to communicate this. 
  • Journalism: We will be working with print and TV journalists in the field to help define our projects as well as experts at the UA who will guide our best practices. 
  • Graphic Design: Our team will be learning about graphic design as applied to science communication.   
  • Universal Design and Accessibility: We will be exploring the effectiveness of our graphics for a diverse audience.
  • Science Education: We will utilize concepts from this field to assist in the assessment and evaluation of the science learning on the part of our clients and intended audiences (viewers, readers, social media followers).

Methods and Tech

The following main methods would be applied throughout our project. Students will be expected to share with the team the methods and tools from their discipline.

  • Design Thinking: All graphics will be created in an iterative process between students, the advisory group, and our clients.
  • Graphic Design: Students will learn about process sketches and ideation, composition, layout, image creation, typography, animation, and illustration.
  • Earth System Science: We will be reviewing literature and working with experts to ensure scientifically accurate representations.
  • Data Analysis: As needed, we will process and graph real world observations to include in our graphics (Python).
  • Science Communication: We will discuss and employ best practices for accessible science communication, including communication strategies, setting goals and assessing their achievement, and understanding the audience.                               

Academic Majors of Interest

Open to all majors, with particular interest in the visual arts, journalism, sciences, and mathematics, including:

  • Art & Visual Culture Education
  • Civil Engineering
  • Education
  • Environmental Science
  • Geology
  • Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences
  • Hydrometeorology
  • Illustration + Design
  • Information
  • Journalism
  • Mining Engineering
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Science, Technology, and Society
  • Sustainable Built Environments

Preferred Interests and Preparation

We are looking for students who are excited about communicating science to the general public. We are looking for a diverse, interdisciplinary cohort of students who should be good communicators interested in working collaboratively with others from different backgrounds. We define diversity broadly, including gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, racial and/or ethnic, and students with disabilities. We do not expect that any of our applicants will have all (or even most) of the skills listed here, but we hope that each of our students will bring different skills to the table and share the general attributes listed below.


  • Ability to analyze hydrologic data — ideally using Python or R, but experience in Excel is good, too
  • Understanding of the physical hydrology and/or atmospheric processes
  • Experience in design process and software applications such as: Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign, Procreate, Aftereffects, or others
  • Experience creating digital presentations (PPT, Keynote, PDFs) and websites
  • Experience with writing for the general public
  • Experience working with diverse interdisciplinary teams
  • Experience verbally communicating to the general public (e.g., through in-person or Zoom presentations)
  • Experience with science outreach and engagement


  • Collaborative
  • Curious about the natural world and how systems interact within the biosphere
  • Creative
  • Independently motivated and inquisitive
  • Organized and punctual
  • Interested in leadership, helping and mentoring others

Application Process

Students will apply using a Google Form found at https://forms.gle/giUqzxH4EL3KAFaD6.

Applications for the Spring 2022 semester will be accepted through December 5, 2021.

Team Advisors

Laura Condon, PhD, MS, BS

Sara Kobilka, MS, BS, BJ

Karen Zimmermann, MFA, BASc

Ty Ferré, PhD, BS

Carol Schwalbe, MA, BA