Water Whys


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 flash flooding more likely after an intense wildfire? 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 works directly with broadcasters and print journalists to develop high-quality graphics that can be used on air, in print and shared via social media.

VIP students work collaboratively with faculty/staff with expertise in hydrology, meteorology, graphic design, 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 act as ‘clients’ each semester. They 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 new students through the graphic design process and managing our social media accounts. Our current resources can be found on our Water Whys Website.

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.

We’re looking for students with a range of interests including hydrology/atmospheric science/environmental science, science communication and education, graphic design/illustration/animation and/or social media strategy. During Fall 2024, required group meetings will be held virtually Mondays from 10-11am and Fridays 11am-noon with occasional in-person meetings (same time).

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/Illustration/Animation: 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).
  • Social Media Strategy: Our team will explore the goals of graphical scientific communication on social media and tactics for maximizing engagement and interaction across multiple social media platforms.

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/Illustration/Animation: 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.


  • Experience in design process and software applications such as: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Procreate, After Effects, 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
  • Experience managing social media accounts and/or creating graphical content for social media.
  • Understanding of the physical hydrology and/or atmospheric processes
  • Ability to analyze hydrologic data — ideally using Python or R, but experience in Excel is good, too


  • 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 should apply for Fall 2024 participation using our Water Whys Google Form

During Fall 2024, mandatory group meetings will be held virtually Mondays from 10-11am and Fridays from 11am-noon with occasional in-person meetings (same time).

Applicants for the Fall 2024 semester will be accepted on a rolling basis until all openings are filled so apply now!

If you have any questions about the program, please contact Educator Coordinator Sara Kobilka at kobilka@arizona.edu(link sends e-mail).

Team Advisors

Laura Condon, PhD

Sara Kobilka, MS

Megan Roxbury

Garry Forger