Skip Nav

Geography Doctoral Student Receives Two AAG Awards

Anna Van de Grift recently received the AAG research award and a Society of Woman Geographers Evelyn L. Pruitt National Fellowship for Dissertation Research Grant for 2021-2022.

Jul 15, 2021

Anna Van de Grift. (Photo by: Anna Van de Grift)
Anna Van de Grift. (Photo by: Anna Van de Grift)

Anna Van de Grift, currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University, recently received the AAG dissertation research award and a Society of Woman Geographers Evelyn L. Pruitt National Fellowship for Dissertation Research Grant for 2021-2022.

She works with Dr. Wendy Jepson in examining barriers to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure, WASH provisioning policy, and the experiences of insecure WASH access for urban residents experiencing homelessness in Seattle, Washington.

Research Inspired By Real-World Problems

Being from the northwest region of Washington state, Van de Grift completed her Bachelors from Fairhaven College at Washington University, and her Masters in Geography from Syracuse University. Van de Grift approached her research with dedication to making basic resources accessible for those in need.

“I approach scholarship with a commitment to social justice and concern for equitable access to resources related to my work experiences as an agricultural laborer and relationships developed in highland Peruvian communities during my undergraduate and master’s education,” Van de Grift said.

“During time in between my degrees, I worked in Seattle teaching English as a second language. I was stunned by the difficulty in finding access to bathrooms and free water for drinking on my long work commutes, as well as the apparent high degree of Seattleites experiencing homelessness,” she said.

Van de Grift shared that the COVID-19 pandemic reminded her of the importance of having access to water and sanitation which are fundamental to human beings’ survival and health.

“I was reminded of this when COVID-19 required businesses and public buildings to close,” she said. “Just when everyone was told to wash their hands frequently, access to public water for sanitation and hygiene was dramatically reduced. Insecure access to water for sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a public health issue for everyone and especially for people without a home with plumbing. Publicly accessible bathrooms and drinking water are crucial resources for homeless residents in any city. Water and sanitation are recognized by the United Nations as a human right. she added.

This lack of basic necessities, for those that are underprivileged, motivated Van de Grift to explore the possible barriers resulting inadequate accessibility.

“I was moved to investigate the experiences of lack of adequate access to WASH and the barriers posed by the urban environment, policy and constraints that homeless service providers face,” Van de Grift said. “Such water-related insecurities may be shared in similar urban contexts and understanding barriers to secure WASH and how vulnerable social groups experience those insecurities is applicable to urban policy across cities.”

Van de Grift also received a Graduate Research Fellowship from Texas A&M’s Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research which supported her initial project “Transformation of Place-Based Values: Andean Communities and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES).

“This funding will also contribute to my current doctoral work (much later than expected) and I would like to acknowledge their gracious allowance,” she said. “I will also present my research at their upcoming Graduate Colloquium Series.”


Research Fellowships Provide Support

Van de Grift experienced various hurdles in research as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and had to quickly shift projects.

“The pandemic significantly impacted my research trajectory, and I was forced to abandon my initial dissertation project located in Peru and develop a new project located within the U.S.,” she emphasized. “I sought to retain thematic aspects related to water resource policy and equitable distribution and access to water for marginalized social groups, aspects that speak to my orientation in human-environment geography.”

“My scholarly orientation found a good fit with these three resources, the Texas Water Institute’s Mills Scholarship, the Society of Woman Geographers Pruitt Fellowship, and the American Association of Geographers Dissertation Research Grant,” Van de Grift said. “

Each of the fellowships provided Van de Grift with crucial resources for catching up from a year disrupted by the pandemic, including tuition, travel and research expense support.

“The Texas Water Institute’s Mills scholarship also encouraged my thinking about the potential for future comparative studies of WASH insecurity in urban contexts, and implication for cities in Texas,” she said.

Van de Grift attributes the mentorship of her advisor, Dr. Wendy Jepson, was invaluable to her, not only as a graduate student, but as a researcher.

“Dr. Jepson encouraged me to use the process of applying to scholarships and fellowships as a tool to sharpen my dissertation design and articulate clearly my methodologies,” Van de Grift said. “Her mentorship was key to strengthening my understanding of the “art” of writing proposals, thinking about your audience, and the pragmatics of your research design choices. Her encouragement also fueled my stamina through the long drafting process.”

Dr. Jepson’s coursework in water security significantly contributed to Van de Grift’s  ability to frame the problem of WASH access and provision, as well as departmental classes in political ecology and human-environment research in terms of social justice and questions of sustainability.


Goals Moving Forward

Van de Grift shared what she hoped to achieve through her fellowships, and aspires to teach a human geography course afterwards.

Van de Grift plans to participate in next year’s American Association of Geographers annual meeting, and hopes to complete her data collection and analysis with the support of these fellowships and defend her dissertation next summer.

“The immediate goal is to complete the dissertation and graduate next year,” she said. “I would like to bring my research to the classroom and teach a human geography class and also gain professional experience in a post-doctoral position related to water and urban geography.”

Through the research process I aim to develop lasting relationships with advocates and stakeholders in the Seattle community, who are invested in tackling the issues of homelessness related to WASH.  


Significant Research

Van de Grift hopes that her research will help a broader audience learn the importance of WASH accessibility, and suggest potential improvements to where it currently stands through her research.

“My aim is to develop empirical knowledge about the socio-spatial, experiential, and policy dimensions of water insecurity as reduced or eliminated access to public toilets, showers, drinking fountains and handwashing facilities for communities in North American cities,” she said.

“My hope is to clarify how water insecurities are experienced by an urban center’s most vulnerable population, knowledge that may contribute to policy intervention and focus prioritization of city resources,” Van de Grift added. “I hope this work is a step toward future comparative studies on WASH insecurities across cities.”

She views public access to water for sanitation and hygiene as a facet of urban spaces that can significantly contribute to the health and quality of life for a diversity of city users with a range of WASH-related needs.

“I hope that bringing attention to the shared public benefits of public access to WASH will expand people’s appreciation for the need for publicly accessible WASH and places where it is lacking,” Van de Grift said. “Highlighting the complexities of WASH insecurities that impact people experiencing homelessness may broaden the public’s view on the issue of homelessness itself and encourage engaging in solutions that enhance dignity and well-being.”


By Mariam Moeen ‘19

Geosciences TAMU Logo

Aggies can change the world. Geoscientists lead the way.