Graduate Study
Ph.D. Student Spotlight
Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Joaquina Noriega Gimenez

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Joaquina Noriega Gimenez

A natural when it comes to ecohydrology, water quality, and resource management, Joaquina Noriega Gimenez has been thriving in the second year of her environmental engineering Ph.D. program. 


1. Where are you from? 

I was born in Queretaro, Mexico. I have also lived in Memphis, TN, Mexico City, and most recently in Illinois. 

2. Where did you get your undergrad degree, and what was your major? Do you have an MS?

As an undergraduate, I studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). I graduated in 2022 with a B.S. degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a minor in Ecology and Conservation Biology. I started graduate school here at Northwestern right after graduating.  

3. What attracted you to engineering? 

As someone deeply committed to addressing the intricate challenges our world faces, I felt a strong calling to pursue engineering. I like that it is a field where innovation and technology intersect to create tangible solutions. I believe that by being an engineer, I can actively contribute to making the world a better place through creative and practical problem-solving. 

4. What attracted you to pursue a Ph.D. in your specialty area? 

I am most passionate about ecosystems and biodiversity! Since I was young, I have enjoyed watching nature documentaries that showcase the beautiful and complex connections between organisms and their environment. I joined Dr. Aaron Packman's group which focuses on understanding the role of environmental interfaces in water system dynamics. I am currently in my second year and my research focuses on ecohydrology, water quality, and resource management. With a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, I seek to contribute to the preservation of the beautiful interconnections found in nature and advance both natural and urban system resilience.  

5. How do you explain your thesis research to a non-scientist? 

My research is looking at how contaminants move over time and space in surface urban runoff. I will be focusing on how natural or naturalized areas within or close to cities help reduce the impact of these contaminants on downstream water quality. My work falls under the international collaboration called SMARTWATER which integrates environmental sensing, network and data science innovations, and computational modeling with stakeholders’ catchment knowledge to transform the way we diagnose, understand, predict, and manage water pollution hot spots and hot moments. 

6. What attracted you to NU? 

Northwestern was always one of my top choices for its well-regarded academic resources. Additionally, since it is close to Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, and located on the shore of the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystem, I knew that I would be well-positioned to ask questions relevant to urban system dynamics. (As a plus, I get to go to Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts with my family). 

7. What has been the highlight of your time at NU and CEE? 

The highlight of my time at NU and CEE has been the incredible experience I had over the summer when I participated in the Catchment Science Summer School at the University of Birmingham. During the program, I delved into the intricacies of runoff processes and gained expertise in the application of hydrometric, isotope/chemical tracer, and modeling techniques in catchment hydrology. While the knowledge gained was invaluable, what made this experience truly exceptional was the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of young and experienced researchers in the field of hydrology. The trip was also an opportunity for me to meet SMARTWATER project collaborators face-to-face, following our virtual interactions on Zoom, and to visit the field sites in person. 

8. What has been the most challenging aspect of your graduate school experience? 

The most challenging aspect of my graduate school experience has been turning my grand aspirations into a manageable research project without losing the elements that make the field exciting to me. 

9. Can you tell us about your experience being mentored or mentoring others? 

My experience with being mentored has been incredibly positive. The faculty members have been exceptionally supportive and helpful as I have explored various research projects and tackled the challenges of the Ph.D. program. It is heartening to see how kind and dedicated they are to ensuring the success of their students. 

10. What are your interests or hobbies outside of your research? 

Outside of my research, I like to play tennis and soccer. Northwestern has nice facilities for both sports, and I have had a great time meeting others in the department who play too. I also enjoy crocheting, listening to music, and walking along the lake and spotting wildlife. One of the highlights from this past summer was coming across a muskrat family during my walks.