China’s water infrastructure, food-energy-water nexus subject of ASU professor's research

August 11, 2017

The Social Science Research Council’s InterAsia Program recently selected Britt Crow-Miller as an SSRC Transregional Research Junior Scholar fellow for the 2017-2018 year. Crow-Miller is an assistant professor in Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society and a senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

Crow-Miller’s SSRC proposal, "The Emerging Geography of Chinese Water Infrastructure: InterAsian and Transregional Connections in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus," was one of only 14 selected for the award from more than 150 eligible initial proposals and 37 finalists. Britt Crow-Miller Britt Crow-Miller, assistant professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, during a visit to the South to North Water Transfer Project in China during its construction. Download Full Image

Collectively, her cohort represents five countries, multiple academic disciplines, and 10 different universities. The fellowship supports projects that re-conceptualize research on Asia, especially work that pushes the boundaries of current frameworks for transregional and transnational research.

“I’m excited to be connected with the SSRC,” Crow-Miller said. “The fellowship’s focus on transregional research has allowed me to enter a new space and think about China’s water infrastructure issues in a way that I might not have considered otherwise.”

That new space is the food-energy-water nexus, a holistic framework that allows researchers to consider how all three domains interact, and to manage resource use, trade-offs and synergies within a given system. The nexus is new to Crow-Miller.

“I’ve been thinking about the water-energy-food nexus for a few years now, and the fellowship call triggered a lightbulb,” she said. “China’s water projects are creating new connections across sectors and regions, and right now we just don’t have a good framework for taking that complexity into account.”

Crow-Miller’s research sits at the intersection of politics, environment, development and technology — with a focus on China’s water infrastructure, which she says is part of a fundamentally unsustainable model of water management governed by a mix of corporations, bureaus, universities and government ministries that she and her colleagues have dubbed the “China Water Machine.”

“By taking a critical inventory of the InterAsian and transregional nexus interconnections of Chinese water infrastructure, I expect a complex web of connections to begin to emerge,” she noted in her project proposal.

The huge and still growing Chinese population, along with rapid urbanization and industrialization, has motivated the government to implement massive projects to meet its domestic need.

China’s traditional reliance on “hard path” solutions — characterized by delivery of more water rather than more sustainable use of what is already available — and big, concrete infrastructure projects significantly affect neighboring nations and entire regions that do not share a border with China.

China’s tens of thousands of dams and water-transfer projects — including the world’s largest, the South to North Water Transfer Project — affect flow for everyone downstream.

“China is such a political powerhouse in the region, at this point there’s nothing to really compel them to take downstream interests into serious consideration,” Crow-Miller said.

Meanwhile, China leverages economic and political resources to encourage or coerce nations outside of its region — mainly in South America and Africa — to implement water infrastructure projects similar to its own.

“China has built up the capacity and expertise to implement these water projects at massive scales, but they can only build so many domestically,” she said. “They want to export that expertise for profit.”

Crow-Miller’s interest in China began to emerge when she participated in a study-abroad trip to China in high school. She studied Chinese history and environmental history in college. For her master’s degree, she studied environmental protest movements in modern China before earning her doctorate in geography, where she studied water, development, political geography and political ecology.

In addition to her work in the East, she has also worked on a number of sustainable urban water management projects in cities of the American West. Her background in history gives her a unique perspective that has proven useful in her new faculty position alongside SFIS’s future-focused mission.

“We have to understand where we come from,” she said. “The water management decisions of the past become the inheritance that informs and often constrains the decisions of water managers in the future. Unfortunately, that insight isn’t always part of the conversation, especially in developing countries focused on shorter-term economic growth goals.”

One important output from her research will be a new sustainability index that will be capable of improving outcomes associated with both existing and planned water infrastructure projects.

She hopes her research will encourage decision-makers in water management positions and citizens affected by such projects to foresee how water infrastructure involves impacts beyond water — and beyond their immediate physical proximity.

“When the topic of sustainable development comes up, everyone talks about social, ecological and economic perspectives, but no one has taken a serious look at how those three dimensions interact across sectors, borders and regions when it comes to water infrastructure,” she said. “The index is the end goal of the project and will likely take several years, but when it’s completed I hope it will give us a better picture of what the trade-offs really are by looking at projects all over the world through a more holistic lens.”

Written by Denise Kronsteiner and Adam Gabriele

Denise Kronsteiner

Director of Strategic Communications, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


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Emerging Leaders encourage ASU alumni to stay connected

August 11, 2017

Six alumni, who graduated from the largest and most diverse college at Arizona State University, have joined forces to create a renewed sense of pride in their alma mater. 

“When I talk to alumni from ASU, they may not even know they were a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said Steven Slugocki, a founding member of the Emerging Leaders program. “This program will engage recent graduates, increase awareness of the college and build alumni affinity.”

The Emerging Leaders program, a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Council, was created to establish a network of talented young professionals who graduated 10 years ago or less from the college. These alumni will invest in the college, encourage alumni involvement and showcase how an education in liberal arts and sciences can make a difference in local, national and global communities.

“I want to make a difference in my community,” said Slugocki, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a history minor in 2007. “Not all of us can write a $10,000 check, but we can give back by staying involved with the college. You’ll get to know incredible people and make a huge impact.”

Slugocki works as a business sales consultant with Wells Fargo and serves as the chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party. He’s the youngest chair of a major county party in the country.

“I hope to make the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as strong as possible,” said Slugocki. “It’s such a diverse college with so many schools and departments. I want to make it a source of pride for recent graduates and people who graduated long ago. They should be proud of their college.”

Amanda Ventura, another founding member of the program, has also been eager to help people feel connected to their college again. She believes it’s important to make sure alumni understand the college and university still have a range of resources to offer them — even after graduation.

“I want to see the foundation of our work give way to a growing network of young alumni who are empowering each other and themselves to make the most out of their careers,” said Ventura, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English (creative writing) in 2011. “I think professional networking with people who are finding practical applications from their university education is really important.” 

Ventura works with communication alumna Jennifer Kaplan, who graduated in the class of ’96 and started her own firm: Evolve Public Relations and Marketing. As a senior account manager, Ventura helps a handful of clients grow their brand through communication and marketing.

“Many alumni want to take their diploma and run,” said Ventura. “We want to reach out to those people and show them why it’s appealing to come back to the university. Our main focus is figuring out how to activate young alumni and bring them back into the support system of ASU.”

Ventura said it has been humbling to come back to campus and see how much the university has changed. She also enjoys working with the other founding members of the groups, especially Slugocki and Samantha Winter McAlpin. 

“I think as an alumna of a very large university, it’s easy to pretend there’s no need for me to get involved because there are thousands of other graduates who are most likely doing what needs to be done, but that’s never the case,” said Winter McAlpin, who received concurrent bachelor’s degrees in Spanish, English and history in 2008. “I’m so happy I’ve found a good way to re-involve myself.”

Winter McAlpin works at Sacks Tierney, a Scottsdale-based law firm, as an attorney who advises clients on estate and tax planning. She has been involved with the Emerging Leaders program since inception. She said she’s very appreciative for the education she received from the college and believes it’s time for the alumni to give back.

“Being a founding member of the program has been a remarkable experience,” Winter McAlpin said. “Our world is changing quickly, and I hope it’s valuable for the college to learn how more recent graduates feel their degree has served them.”

Paul Padegimas, Abraham Hamadeh and Jorge Coss Ortega — who just graduated in May 2017 — are the newest members of the Emerging Leaders program. They’re eager to get involved and connect with fellow alumni from the college. 

“I’ve been interested in getting a little more involved,” said Padegimas, who graduated from the university in 2011 with a master’s degree in geography.

Padegimas said he learned how to tackle complex problems from his degree program, which has been essential in his current career as a transportation consultant with Turner Engineering Corporation.

“I want to help people go further in their education than they otherwise could by helping the program secure funding for scholarships,” Padegimas said. “I also want to continue to help the college and university develop. Both have done a lot of big things and have a lot of great programs. Let’s keep pushing it in the same direction.”

In 2012, Hamadeh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He went on to complete a law degree at University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law in 2016. Currently, Hamadeh is a Second Lieutenant of Military Intelligence in the United States Army Reserve and a board member for ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership.

“I want to be an advocate and ambassador because I have a real sense of pride in ASU,” Hamadeh said. “I also believe in what Michael Crow stands for in education. It’s accessible to everybody and yet can be so personable. That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to give back.”

For more information about the Emerging Leaders program, please contact Lisa Roubal-Brown at 480-965-2617 or

The Emerging Leaders program is a subdivision of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Council, an exclusive group of alumni who help shape the future of the college by staying committed to the highest standards of excellence and innovation in higher education. 

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering