levee at sunset

Student-led research for community environmental action


Communities across the country face an increasing need to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. However many rural communities, low income communities, and communities of color operate on tight budgets, and lack the funding, resources, and staff capacity to research and design climate resiliency projects. Fulton, Missouri is one such under-resourced rural community, where increasingly common flash floods put an eroding levee at risk of failure. With the community’s safety at risk, Fulton city managers are tasked with designing a solution to the eroding levee without the budget to do so. In a partnership with Community and College Partners Program (C2P2), emLab enlisted a team of students to research and design solutions to Fulton’s eroding levee that both build the community’s climate resilience and provide important community-based environmental justice experience to students.  


UC Santa Barbara students took a multi-pronged approach to identifying and evaluating the landscape of levee solutions in order to make final recommendations. They performed desktop research to find similar cases of levee and dam erosion, erosion and hydrology dynamics, and general best practices and products on the market. To hone the suite of options that are best suited to Fulton’s specific situation, students met with Fulton stakeholders, hydrology and geochemistry experts, and professionals with knowledge on specific levee solutions. The final deliverables included a final presentation to Fulton city engineers and a report outlining recommendations and resources. 

Key findings

Environmental internships that connect university students with underserved communities is a win-win. Communities benefit from the contributions of students’ skills and knowledge, and students gain a real-world understanding of how environmental problems and solutions play out in under-resourced communities. “My trip to Fulton and work with C2P2 has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience,” wrote one student intern. 

Through literature review, stakeholder interviews, and a site visit, the students were able to craft tailor-made levee management recommendations for the City of Fulton, which were received with enthusiasm. Fulton is working to secure grant funding to implement a solution to the eroding levee, for which the students’ report will be crucial. Read the report here


This study was conducted in collaboration with Community and College Partners Program (C2P2) and Fulton, Missouri city engineers.