Franz travels to African drylands to understand water
For Trenton Franz, the one drawback to being a football star at the University of Wyoming -- he helped lead his team to its first bowl victory in 38 years -- was missing out on the chance to study abroad.
His graduate work at Princeton has more than filled the gap. Working with civil engineering professors Michael Celia and Kelly Caylor, Franz studies the interactions among climate, water and vegetation in dryland ecosystems in central Kenya. By the time he earns his Ph.D., he will have spent more than six months conducting research in Africa, spread out over six field campaigns. Last year, Franz kept a video diary during his time in Kenya.
His research is part of the University’s “Water, Savannas and Society” Grand Challenges project. The Grand Challenges program unites students and faculty from across campus, including engineering, the natural sciences and the social sciences, to develop solutions to some of today’s most pressing global problems.
“Natural systems are coupled problems and trying to fully understand the depth of the issue requires a deeper understanding than typically one field of study can provide,” Franz said. “Each discipline has their own way of setting goals, conducting research and conducting field work. But it is exactly these types of issues stemming from many different perspectives that the world must overcome in the future.”
While Africa is half a world away, Franz’s interest in water scarcity was fostered in his home state of Colorado.
“I have always been interested in water issues in dryland ecosystems,” he said. “My grandfather and uncle both worked for the Colorado state engineer’s office. The history of Colorado and all the western states have water as a central theme. I became really interested in some of the issues, like the Colorado River Compact and the Central Valley of California, when I read Cadillac Desert by Marc Risner.”
His time in Colorado also spurred another interest – disc golf (think golf, but played with a Frisbee). As a child, he and his friends used to find lost Frisbees in the lake at a local park and sell them back to the disc golfers. One day, when Franz was 12 years old, the boys decided to play, rather than sell the Frisbees. Franz was hooked.
Now a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association, Franz has competed in tournaments around the country as a semi-professional disc golfer and he plays in a local weekly league each summer. He is on the board of the Bucks Country Disc Golf Alliance, a role in which he organizes and participates in state park service projects. He also is an active member of the Graduate School community, serving as a community associate to help organize two events for graduate students each month.