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Megan Harris

IGC FELLOW    |   Global Change Center

Ph.D. Student  •   Civil and Environmental Engineering

Research Interests: systems of systems modeling, hydrology, software framework, uncertainty, system dynamics, interdependencies

Advisor: Dr. John Little


Megan graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with double majors in Environmental Engineering and Spanish within the Liberal Arts Honors Program. Since she was a young girl climbing waterfalls on hikes with her mom, Megan has fostered a love of hydrology and international research. Then, as an undergraduate, a few key projects ignited her current research interests in systems modeling and hydrological dynamics.

In 2019, Megan crafted a report for the City of Austin conveying the demographic factors that influence interest in Green Stormwater Infrastructure device installation for Austin residents. She assessed whether a resident’s income level, type of dwelling, age, neighborhood, and how they inform themselves about water conservation affected their willingness to pay for rain collectors, bioswales, collection gutters, or permeable pavements.

Likewise, her senior year, Megan consulted on a student project in Guatemala that planted trees in polluted lakes and studied the change in acidity and bacteria levels to establish a sustainable solution to mitigate point source pollution in the local lake Atitlan. Finally, in Austin, she co-led a semester-long research project designing a systems dynamics model to represent blooms of blue-green algae in Lady Bird Lake and an agent-based model depicting the flux of lake visitors. She integrated the models to visualize how toxic algae growth impacts the decision of Austin residents to bring their dogs to the lake and convey to the city the importance of monitoring and communicating algae levels to the public.

These research projects underscored fascinating interdependencies between the natural and social environments, Thus, Megan chose to attend Virginia Tech as a Ph.D. student in Civil Engineering to join Dr. John Little’s project building a multi-scale, system of systems in the hydrologic sector. The purpose of system of systems modeling is to link existing models that have been siloed within different disciplines to provide policymakers with a more comprehensive understanding of the needs of their constituency. Through her participation in the IGC, Megan hopes to expand her understanding of such diverse disciplines to improve her approach to her ultimate project: integrating a social model into a hydro-economic model of the Chesapeake Bay.