Is UMass right for me? Experiences of Postdoctoral Researcher Nelson da Luz (Winter 2023)

Nelson da Luz is a postdoctoral researcher in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering group within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UMass.

Nelson poses with a duck next to the UMass campus pond, May 2022.



How did you become involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?

To be completely honest, I didn’t even know what STEM was until I had already decided to go to Manhattan College for engineering, but even without that knowledge beforehand, I had already lived a childhood and adolescence that predisposed me to get involved in a technical profession. Some of my hobbies as a youth involved building with Lego and model rocketry. Around the age of 8, I said that I wanted to be an architect, tying together my interests in both art and construction. I generally excelled in mathematics and the sciences compared to my peers, so my high school guidance counselor suggested that I consider engineering. I gained some experience with the engineering style of design while I was completing my Eagle Scout project which also showed to me that I could possibly be successful in a technical profession. My time in the Boy Scouts also led me to gain a strong appreciation and desire to protect the natural environment. All these things in combination are what led me to become involved in STEM.


How did you choose environmental engineering?

I specifically got into environmental engineering while I was taking the course “Environmental Engineering Principles” as a sophomore at Manhattan College. I became more interested in water topics from taking that class and ended up incorporating those interests into my extra-curricular activities. I was part of the Catholic Relief Services Campus Ambassador program, and because of my interest in water, I was appointed to lead a committee focused on water and sanitation. The pivotal point in my story came in January 2014, on a service-immersion trip to Haiti as part of Manhattan College’s Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience. Throughout our trip, we used 5-gallon water jugs for our drinking water. The water from the tap at the Lasallian Christian brother’s house where we stayed was not safe to drink. A few days into our stay at the brothers’ house we had used 8 of those water jugs. When one of the brothers told Brother Nicolai, the oldest brother in the house, that there were no more water jugs left, he was left in a state of pure amazement. He said it was impossible. I had filled my water bottle three quarters full at this point and when I realized what the brothers were talking about, I stopped filling my bottle. I was both embarrassed and astonished at the amount of water we had used in such a short amount of time. And that was just drinking water. It didn’t include the water we used for washing our hands and showering. I realized that something was wrong, on a higher level. Why was it that the brothers didn’t have a consistently available and quality water source? It was something to reflect on throughout the rest of the day while we were doing a service project in the local community. It was something to reflect on when the people that were helping us from the community asked if anyone had an extra water pouch because they were thirsty and didn’t have one.

Nelson and others on a service-immersion trip to Haiti through Manhattan College Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience, January 2014.

After we finished the project, we sat down with the group of men we had been working with throughout the day and had a really powerful conversation. Both sides, our group, and the men we worked with, asked each other some hard questions. One question that stood out to me though was this: “What are your hopes for the future? Your desires?” When it came to my turn, I spoke words that changed the course of my life for good, a defining moment. I replied, “I want to help people get clean water.” I had a chance to think about what I said for the rest of the day, and by the time that our evening reflection came around, I realized something very important. I realized that when I said those words, “I want to help people get clean water”, I truly meant it. They were words that I said before I left for the trip, but for the first time, I knew that I truly meant them. From that point forward, I’ve committed my professional life to be part of the world’s efforts to increase access to clean water in the environment and for supplying folks with clean drinking water.


What is your background before starting at UMass?

Before UMass, as described above, I went to Manhattan College. While there I was heavily involved with campus ministry and social action, particularly on topics related to water and sanitation. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I continued there to earn my master’s degree in environmental engineering doing research under Dr. Kevin Farley. During my master’s work, I was involved in environmental modeling projects including modeling bioaccumulation of hydrophobic organic contaminants in benthic invertebrates and modeling sediment transport in the freshwater-tidal section of the Hudson River in New York. My experiences in graduate research along with the kind support of Manhattan College faculty led me to consider earning my doctorate. I applied to a few institutions, but ultimately ended up choosing UMass, where I’ve now been since Fall 2017!


Why did you decide to come to UMass?

Out of all the programs to which I applied, UMass ended up being the best choice for a few reasons. Firstly, the research opportunities offered by Dr. Kumpel were the most enticing of the different places that I had considered. The reason I found the research interesting was on account of my previous involvement in water and sanitation efforts during my time at Manhattan College. It seemed very cool to me, to be able to do that type of work in an academic setting. Secondly, I found the UMass EWRE community quite welcoming. I remember when I was on my visit to campus before choosing to attend UMass, that some of the graduate students invited the visitors over to their home, which helped me to get a better sense of the community and character of the folks I could potentially be working alongside during my doctoral studies. I had also gotten somewhat familiar with UMass earlier while participating in the Northeast Graduate Student Water Symposium (NEGSWS) twice while I was a master’s student at Manhattan College.

Kumpel Lab Group Presents at UNC Water and Health (Fall 2022)

Interview with Graduate Student – Amanda Carneiro Marques (Fall 2022)

Amanda Carneiro Marques is a PhD candidate in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering, co-advised by Emily Kumpel and Christian Guzman. She shared with us her experiences as a grad student at UMass.  

What’s your background?

I got my bachelor’s degree in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering at Federal Fluminense University, Brazil. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to spend a year at Roger Williams University (Rhode Island, US), where I got a minor degree in Sustainability Studies. After that, I completed my master’s degree in Civil Engineering, focused on Water Resources Management, at Rio de Janeiro Federal University, Brazil. During my master’s studies, the focus of my research was sustainable water resources planning under climate change. I also worked full-time at a water treatment and distribution company and at a watershed management agency in Brazil. I worked in several projects involving partnerships with environmental conservation agencies in Brazil and in the US during all these years. I would say that my background is very related to water planning and management, water quality assessment, and sustainable water supply. My main purpose was always trying to help with the need of providing safe and reliable water to people, taking into account different environmental and social aspects that are related to the diverse context of distinct communities.  

What made you want to do a PhD?

I am very passionate about research, I am a very curious person, and I love to constantly learn new things. I also know that not everyone has the same access to educational opportunities like this. I was motivated to do the PhD because I believed it was a way to use my skills to work towards making science more accessible, equitable, collaborative, and inclusive to a broader community.  

Amanda presenting her research at the European Geosciences Union conference.

Why did you want to do research with Dr. Kumpel and Dr. Guzman?

When reading about their research and talking to them, I realized that our interests aligned and that we shared similar ideals. I believe that the most important thing when choosing an advisor and mentor is to understand that you have similar purposes for your research. Both of them work towards providing safe water access to the community and to make science more inclusive, and sharing those interests is very important for me to feel motivated to continue to overcome research challenges and academic barriers.  

What made you want to come to UMass?

I was very enthusiastic about the Environmental and Water Resources Program at the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department here at UMass. The courses were very interesting and presented broad perspectives on several topics. I also really liked how the faculty was interdisciplinary, and how they collaborate with each other to get different perspectives on how to deal with environmental issues and advance science. I really like cooperative environments and to be in a place where I feel my insights are appreciated.  

Can you describe your research?

My research is related to assessing water quality in a water supply watershed. I analyze surface water quality data to characterize contaminants’ seasonal patterns and to identify potential sources of pollutants through land use assessment. It also includes the investigation of contaminant transport, potential pollutant pathways, and surface-groundwater interactions using environmental tracers and stable isotopes to understand the dynamics of a given constituent and how persistent this pollutant is in the natural environment, supporting the water management and decision-making process. I also use reservoir water quality modeling as a tool to evaluate how changes in management and conservation strategies would impact a drinking water supply watershed.

Quabbin Reservoir, Western-Central Massachusetts.

  What advice do you have for someone considering research or graduate school?

I would say that graduate school is an exquisite opportunity for learning, exchanging experiences, developing skills, and getting new perspectives. I would also say that not always it is an easy process and that there are a lot of challenges to be overcome along the way. It is important to be truthful to yourself, understanding your limitations, and working with people to overcome barriers. There is an excellent community of people ready to talk through your problems and help you to find solutions. Sharing concerns, asking for help, and connecting with others is extremely important to keep your mind engaged and your projects moving forward. And lastly, I would say to try to enjoy the process instead of focusing only on the final goal because it is an extremely interesting experience.


Interview with Graduate Student – Hannah Wharton

We sat with lab alum Hannah Wharton to ask about her experience as a UMass graduate student in Dr. Kumpel’s lab. Hannah received her BS in Civil Engineering from UMass in 2019, and she recently graduated with her MS in Civil Engineering with a focus in Environmental and Water Resources.

What made you want to pursue a master’s degree?

I really enjoy research and find it genuinely fulfilling to explore a research question, especially in the WASH field, where there are so many applications that work towards improving public health outcomes. I also greatly enjoy working with students and teaching, so I hope to become a professor. Knowing I would need my PhD to achieve this goal, I decided that I would do a master’s degree first to gain more research experience and learn more about teaching. 

Why did you want to do research in Dr. Kumpel’s lab?

Ever since high school, I have been interested in WASH and how to provide safe drinking water to people who do not currently have access to it. In undergrad, I worked with Emily in Engineers Without Borders and then on a project on the removal of E. coli by standard POU devices. Emily’s research on WASH and intermittent water supply has many applications in improving public health in many low- and middle-income communities. In addition, her expertise in the area was an amazing learning opportunity. I hope to help people gain access to safe drinking water through this scope of research. 

Can you describe your thesis work?

I studied the fate and transport of E. coli in intermittent water supply systems compared to continuous water supply through running our pilot-scale pipe loops. In addition, I looked at the persistence of E. coli in chloraminated water and whether the E. coli was incorporated into the biofilm or remained solely in the bulk water. I hope this information provides insight into managing bacterial water quality in intermittent water supply systems.

What are your plans moving forward?

I will be starting my PhD in environmental engineering at UC Berkeley this fall.

What advice do you have for someone considering research or graduate school?

I have found research and grad school to be some of the most fulfilling and meaningful work I have ever done. I have learned so much from my professors and peers and love the continued growth that comes from working at a research institution. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been provided with during grad school so far and would highly encourage anyone considering grad school to go for it. The people I have worked with have made it an incredible experience, and I am so happy and grateful to be here!