An homage to the mentorship and work of ASU Regents Professor Nancy Grimm

Mentees co-author review on Grimm's contributions to field of hydrology, aridland ecosystems

January 6, 2023

Work from Regents Professor and Senior Global Futures Scientist Nancy Grimm was highlighted in a review article as part of the Journal of Hydrology's "Special Issue on Women in Hydrology — Celebrating the contributions of mentors, researchers and leaders." The review, titled "Learning from arid and urban aquatic ecosystems to inform more sustainable and resilient futures," is not only a compilation of Grimm's work but also an homage to her mentorship throughout the years, as the authors of the article are Grimm's mentees.

Grimm has built a successful and fruitful life in academia, thus inspiring young researchers, particularly women, to achieve their dreams. Michele Clark, one of her mentees, shares some of Grimm's accomplishments: "She was the founding director of one of the first urban long-term ecological research (LTER) stations in Phoenix (CAP-LTER). She later went on to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, served as an NSF program director, a staff scientist and lead author for the National Climate Assessment, and is currently an editor of AGU's Earth's Future."  Nancy Grimm and ESSA (Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene) scholars smile against a blue sky background while on a hike. Nancy Grimm on a hike with ESSA (Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene) scholars (left to right: Melissa Nelson, Ame Min-Venditti, Nancy Grimm, Yiamar Rivera-Matos, Michele Clark). Photo courtesy Michele Clark

Moreover, "she has been a particular inspiration to women in science," Clark said. 

The review was conceptualized and led by a team of four women who were all Nancy's mentees: Lauren McPhillips, Marta Berbes-Blazquez, Rebecca Hale and Tamara Harms. They collaborated with other researchers in the fields of social sciences, engineering and ecology to detail and finalize the review. The review honors Grimm's exceptional work in the field of hydrology and aridland ecosystems.

"The fact that so many people wanted to help write this tribute to her is another testament to her impact as a mentor," said Lauren McPhillips, co-author of the review and postdoc advised by Grimm.

The recently published review details Grimm's investigations in aridland hydrology and ecology. Furthermore, it describes the applications of such insights on urban ecosystems and the interactions between engineering, social and behavioral sciences, and geography.

McPhillips described that "hydrology of arid systems has been understudied for a long time, and Nancy has brought some novel insight on how these systems function — and these observations have been leveraged to understand the similarly unique hydrologic regime, and potential for resilience, in urban systems," she said. 

"Nancy really was an early leader of the field of urban ecology too. Water in cities was really the domain of engineers for a long time. Not only did Nancy spur her own research starting to understand the unique ecohydrology of cities, but she also brought together faculty and students from across many different domains to start understanding cities as ecosystems, and thinking about how to leverage these insights to look towards a more sustainable and resilient future," McPhillips said. "In many ways, she has been a bridge, facilitating connections between scientists and practitioners from many different backgrounds, spurring truly inter- and transdisciplinary work." 

Grimm's achievements have gone far beyond urban ecology, and her mentorship has shaped the careers of early scientists. For instance, McPhillips shares one of the most valuable lessons learned by working with Grimm: "Think big, don't be afraid to push boundaries and do what needs to be done to do what's important and what will make a difference."

Marta Berbes-Blazquez, a co-author of the review, considers Grimm a role model, saying, "I think that Nancy is a role model for many of us in that she approaches research from a genuine place of curiosity and learning. There is humility to that that is the hallmark of a true scholar. She always emphasizes the need to come up with good questions and I take that to heart. I think her innate curiosity and willingness to learn have taken her to interesting places that straddle different disciplinary boundaries," Berbes-Blazquez said.  

"(Nancy) cares and considers students as complex people with diverse interests and goals beyond the academy. Nancy is transparent about her career, family life, work interests and personal interests and encourages students to see the bigger picture around their contribution to the field. She's also super musically talented, a devoted grandma, a great dog mom and a wonderful cook … and that just names a few of her extra talents," Clark said.

Nancy Grimm is affiliated with the School of Life Sciences and is a senior global futures scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada

Graduate Science Writer, School of Life Sciences