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Health, Air Pollution and Population Initiative in Education and Science Training

About the program

Air pollution negatively affects the majority of the US population. It causes respiratory illnesses, neurological and mental health problems, and reproductive ailments. Air pollution is particularly acute in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley, where the University of Utah is located. The area’s topography produces temperature inversions in the winter, leading to stagnant conditions and poor air quality with well-documented human health effects. Since the impacts of pollution are worse in racial/ethnic minority and low-income communities, it is imperative to engage researchers from these communities in addressing the complex problems of air quality and environmental inequity. However, scientists from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds are underrepresented among faculty at US universities. Various strategies have been implemented in higher education to diversify the US research workforce, and faculty-mentored research experiences for undergraduate students have been shown to be particularly successful. Given this evidence, this program trains students from underrepresented backgrounds in air pollution-related health research through a faculty-mentored summer research program called Health, Air Pollution and Population Initiative in Education and Science Training (HAPPIEST).

HAPPIEST 2024 will take place May 22, 2024-August 1, 2024

The HAPPIEST experience

HAPPIEST is structured by a mentoring “community of practice,” which supports an evidence-based ten-week summer training program for undergraduate students in the area of environmental health science. This community includes four teams, each comprised of two undergraduate students, one graduate student training coordinator, and one faculty mentor. Teams work on locally relevant air pollution and health research projects, with the potential for interdisciplinary integration across teams. Eight undergraduate students are funded each summer, for a total of forty between Summer 2021 and Summer 2025. The program leverages a unique partnership with the UOU’s successful Summer Program for Undergraduate Research. The program prepares students for placement into competitive graduate programs in the environmental health sciences. HAPPIEST also fuels interdisciplinary collaborations among faculty mentors with the goal of informing novel solutions to environmental health problems in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond.

Selected students receive a stipend of $5,000 (less applicable taxes) over the course of the program. Up to 4 students each summer also receive on-campus housing.

Students become part of the community of practice. They conduct their research alongside another HAPPIEST trainee. The two undergraduate work closely with a HAPPIEST-funded graduate student training coordinator, and a faculty mentor. They work ~35 hours/week on their research tasks. They also attend SPUR programming and several HAPPIEST professional development workshops that are specific to environmental health.

HAPPIEST introduces students to the use of large-scale population cohorts and data integration, which is essential for examining current environmental health phenomena.

HAPPIEST students conduct research focused on contextually-relevant environmental health problems that disproportionately affects racial/ethnic minority communities in the Salt Lake Valley. Depending on the specific research project, this allows some student participants to give back to their communities.

Each student receives financial support to present their research at a regional or national meeting in the year after their summer research experience. Faculty mentors and graduate student training coordinators mentor the student through the process of presenting at a conference.

Apply  to HAPPIEST

Previous Cohorts



Project Directors

Sara Grineski

Dr. Grineski is an active researcher in the area of environmental health; furthermore, she is an experienced director of undergraduate research training programs. She is also the director of undergraduate studies in Sociology at UOU and co-director of the UOU’s Center for Natural and Technological Hazards (with PI Collins). Grineski’s environmental health research has been supported by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities with an award towards the Center of Excellence in Environmental Health Disparities, which she directed at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), as well as by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. Grineski gained experience in managing undergraduate research training programs while at UTEP. She was a PI on a multiple-PI team for the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) initiative site at UTEP supported by the NIH Common Fund. As a director of UTEP’s BUILDing SCHOLARS Research Enrichment Core, which had a budget of $5 million in direct costs, she oversaw a summer research program for 70 undergraduate students from regional two- and four-year universities, whom the program matched with faculty research mentors at 13 different research partner institutions; she also managed a mentoring program for ~50 undergraduate UTEP students working on research with faculty during the academic year, and a peer-mentoring program for undergraduate UTEP students. She currently directs the BUILDing SCHOLARS summer undergraduate research experience partnership at the UOU (2020-2024).

Tim Collins

Dr. Collins is an established researcher in the areas of air pollution, environmental inequalities, and health disparities. He is also the director of undergraduate studies in Geography at UOU. His research on environmental health has been funded by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. While at UTEP, Collins gained experience in the scientific and administrative leadership of undergraduate research training programs both in his role as a Provost’s Faculty Fellow with the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives and as a PI on a multi-PI team for BUILDing SCHOLARS, which is one of ten sites in the NIH-funded BUILD initiative. As director of the Institutional Development Core, which had a budget of $4.5 million in direct costs, he oversaw the development of a novel research-driven curricular program (including new course-based undergraduate research experiences), searches for key personnel (multiple new tenure-track faculty members and postdoctoral personnel) to support the program, improvements to biomedical research training environments across campus, small grant programs for faculty, and a mentoring awards program.


About the Faculty Mentors

HAPPIEST includes a pool of faculty mentors from:

  • the physical sciences
  • engineering (e.g., atmospheric science, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, exposure science)
  • the biomedical sciences (e.g., neurology, pulmonology, psychiatry)
  • the socio-behavioral sciences (e.g., sociology, geography, demography, political science)

thereby fostering the development of transdisciplinary perspectives among student participants as well as collaborations across faculty-led research teams. Each year, students have the opportunity to work with some of these faculty.

Mentor Department Environmental Health Focus Potential Summer Project
Amanda Bakian Psychiatry Air pollution and the risks of psychiatric outcomes including autism spectrum disorder, suicide, and depression Investigate the relationship between patient-reported mental health outcomes and air pollution levels in Salt Lake County
Tabitha Benney Political Science Air pollution sensing, COVID-19, Risk assessments of air quality and the policy processes Electric bus air quality monitoring platform: findings and implications
Timothy Collins Geography & Environmental and Sustainability Studies Environmental health disparities, environmental justice, and effects of air pollution on children Analyze relationships between air pollution, economic disadvantage, and intellectual disability among children in the Salt Lake City School District
Scott Collingwood Pediatrics Novel methods of exposure monitoring Healthy Homes—Assessing and improving indoor air quality 
David Curtis Family & Consumer Studies Examining place-based features (including built and natural environments) and health  
Sara Grineski Sociology & Environmental and Sustainability Studies Air quality and its socially and geographically uneven effects on children’s health Examine associations between air pollution and standardized test scores at Utah public schools
Kerry Kelly Chemical Engineering Links between energy, air quality, and human health, with an emphasis on aerosol formation Evaluate the effect of sound walls on air quality using low-cost sensors in an underserved community that is requesting a sound wall
Anne Kirchhoff Pediatrics Air pollution and cancer survivorship The impact of air pollution on cancer survivors 
Daniel Mendoza City & Metropolitan Planning, Atmospheric Sciences & Pulmonology Exposure mechanisms, health outcomes, and design of observation platform for air pollutants mounted on electric light-rail trains Measure levels of air pollution in Salt Lake and learn how to quantify the economic impact of negative health outcomes in order to develop compelling policy solutions
Robert Paine III Pulmonology Uncovering mechanisms by which air pollution impacts pulmonary health Study the mechanisms by which air pollution impacts pulmonary innate immune responses
Cheryl Pirozzi Pulmonology Effects of air pollution on pulmonary diseases Analyze association of air pollution exposure with rare pulmonary diseases, and identify susceptible patient populations
Jeff Rose Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Political ecology Examining the social and environmental justice elements of homelessness across the urban-wildland interface
Ken Smith Population Studies & Family and Consumer Studies Social, environmental, and genetic origins of rates of aging in humans Examine health effects of air pollution using medical records of all persons in Salt Lake City who live near the light rail and measures of air pollution collected from air monitors mounted on trains
Jim VanDerslice Division of Public Health Exposure estimation and spatial methods, with a focus on community exposures and health outcomes Impacts of ambient  air pollution on pre-term birth and associated healthcare costs.  

Meet the Summer 2024 HAPPIEST Faculty Mentors

The Summer 2024 faculty mentors are an outstanding group of faculty who are conducting cutting-edge research on air pollution and health from multiple disciplinary backgrounds. Click on the links below to read their HAPPIEST project description as posted on the SPUR webpage and to apply to work on their project.

Available Projects


Program structure

HAPPIEST runs in collaboration with the U’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR). SPUR provides undergraduate students with an intensive ten-week research experience under the mentorship of a U faculty member, and it emphasizes the development of a diverse and inclusive group of student participants. Through SPUR, HAPPIEST participants engage in:

  • welcome and closing receptions
  • peer advising
  • weekly education events
  • bi-weekly program meetings
  • optional on-campus housing

HAPPIEST students also participate in programming focused on environmental health that is not extended to other SPUR students. SPUR closes with the Summer Symposium, which gives students the opportunity to present their work to the U community. Like their SPUR peers, HAPPIEST students are required to present their research at this event.

HAPPIEST students have a home on campus in NEXUS, the iNterdisciplinary EXchange for Utah Science directed by Dr. Lori Kowaleski-Jones, where HAPPIEST meetings and trainings take place. Housed within the College of Social and Behavioral Science in a new, state-of-the-art building in the heart of campus, NEXUS promotes collaboration among all U departments and colleges through joint research resources, faculty exchange programs, faculty mentoring programs, interdisciplinary summer workshops, interdisciplinary conferences, and faculty and student training programs in a variety of research methods across diverse research fields.

Who is eligible?

Admission to HAPPIEST (and SPUR) is competitive, and applicants must meet all of the following criteria to be considered:

  • be a matriculated, degree-seeking U undergraduate student in the subsequent fall semester (beginning or continuing a college career and not graduating before December)
  • eligible to work in the US
  • able to commit to approximately 35–40 hours per week of employment during the duration of the program (late May –early August)
  • be at least 18 years old at the start of the program
  • Applicants should be from underrepresented groups, as defined by the National Institutes of Health: Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders

While rising sophomores and juniors are particularly encouraged to apply, previous college coursework in specific subjects or research experience are not required.

How to apply?

HAPPIEST applicants should apply through the online SPUR portal. The deadline to apply is January 28, 2024.


Students will be asked to provide their contact, demographic and academic information; a resume or CV; an official transcript; a personal statement; professional references; and project preferences as part of their application. In the 500-word personal statement, students will describe their reason for applying to do summer research, what they hope to gain from this program, the research they are interested in conducting, any technical skills they possess, and any previous research experience. They will provide the names and contact information of two references, preferably U faculty. Letters are solicited from these references and added to the student’s file.

Applicants are asked to select up to three mentors/projects listed in the portal and rank them in order of preference. HAPPIEST projects will be identified by a note and a disclaimer that only students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups are eligible to apply. Applicants may select three HAPPIEST projects or a mix of HAPPIEST and SPUR projects.  Only applicants working on HAPPIEST projects will be in HAPPIEST. Applicants on other SPUR projects will just be in SPUR.

HAPPIEST is funded by a R25 grant from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.

Last Updated: 11/27/23