Land & Environment

When the Going Gets Tough: NSF Grant Awarded to Build Resilient Communities

By Lael Gilbert |

Utah State University researchers Courtney Flint (right) and Jessica Schad (left) are participating in a new $15M National Science Foundation-funded project to help communities and ecosystems become more resilient when they face complex challenges like drought, wildfire and changes in population. Photo courtesy Courtney Flint.

It’s been a rough couple of years for most communities in the Western U.S.—wildfire, drought and social unrest have made it urgent to address vulnerabilities in places reeling from one disaster or crisis after another. Utah State University researchers are taking steps, with participation in a new $15M National Science Foundation-funded project to help communities and ecosystems become more resilient when they face complex challenges like extended water shortages, frequent wildfires or ballooning populations.

The Transformation Network is a multidisciplinary project that uses research, networking and innovative planning to move toward more equitable communities and resilient ecosystems in the Intermountain West. USU’s team is led by Courtney Flint, professor in the Department of Environment and Society in the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, and is supported by Jessica Schad, associate professor of sociology. The team is leading research on community wellbeing and the role watershed organizations play in regional sustainability. They’ll also contribute to research on regenerative agriculture and on integrating data, findings and community engagement for the Intermountain West region.

“USU’s involvement in the Transformation Network will allow us to bring home to Utah the most effective strategies from around the Intermountain West for maximizing community and ecosystem wellbeing,” said Flint.

Hosted through the University of New Mexico in partnership with seven Western-based universities and more than 50 partner organizations, the effort represents diverse communities, sectors, disciplines and backgrounds for improving regional sustainability. The project has several overarching goals: to improve understanding about how urban and rural systems are connected; to create a strong network of experts who work together to explore what communities might need to reach sustainable solutions; to train a cohort of scientists and leaders with expertise in a systems approach to management; and to document and share successful case studies in sustainable urban and rural solutions.

“We depend on complicated regional systems for food, water and other goods and services,” said Susan Margulies, NSF assistant director for engineering. “For these systems to thrive in a changing climate, amidst new demands and while serving and benefiting everyone, communities will need to reimagine and redesign themselves.”

The network uses a multidisciplinary method to address critical research questions in order to make vital regional systems sustainable, resilient and more equitable in the future, she said.

“This project will bring together cutting-edge science, Indigenous knowledge, community-based innovations and new insights from industry, governments and non-profit organizations,” said Flint. “It takes a big-picture thinking to tackle complex problems. We’re excited to be part of this great venture.”


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


Courtney Flint
Professor, Community Resource Specialist
Department of Environment & Society
(435) 797-8635


Research 786stories Society 442stories Community 411stories Environment 228stories Grants 215stories Ecology 164stories Sustainability 138stories Ecosystems 124stories

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