New Scholarship Honors Former Water Lab Director, Supports Undergraduate Research

March 7th, 2022

News Release — March 7, 2022 — Utah State University Civil and Environmental Engineering alumna Zhida Song-James (’91) has created an endowed scholarship in honor of her late husband, L. Douglas James, a former Utah Water Research Lab director.

The scholarship will support undergraduate students participating in hydrology and water resources-related research in the water lab. Zhida and Doug shared a strong belief in the value of undergraduate research, which is why Zhida chose this focus for the scholarship.

Zhida Song-James is a USU College of Engineering alumna creating an endowed scholarship in honor of her late husband  L. Douglas James, a former Utah Water Research Lab director. The scholarship will support undergraduate students participating in hydrology research.

Zhida Song-James is a USU College of Engineering alumna creating an endowed scholarship in honor of her late husband L. Douglas James, a former Utah Water Research Lab director. The scholarship will support undergraduate students participating in hydrology research.

An experience the couple had with one of their grandchildren helped shape their view on research. When their grandson Matthew was in sixth grade, he did some experiments with building materials in school which helped fuel his curiosity.

Later on, when he went to college, Zhida said he almost immediately began participating in undergraduate research. Now, he is earning a Ph.D.

“Watching this process we realized how early exposure to research, how important that is to a kid to let them know there’s a door,” Zhida said.

Zhida’s hope for this new scholarship is it will be a door to research for undergraduate students who may not have the same research opportunities as graduate students.

Doug served as director of the Utah Water Research Lab from 1976 to 1992, and Zhida worked in the lab while she was earning her Ph.D. at Utah State. Having been involved closely with the work of the water lab, Zhida said she sees the lab as a place with opportunities that are a good fit for introducing undergraduate students to research.

In addition to financially supporting the students, the scholarship will also help recipients attend conferences.

“That is an eye-opener,” Zhida said. “That is another good opportunity for people to know what research is about.”

After graduating from USU, Zhida spent much of her career working for the Federal Flood Insurance Program managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.. She has participated in projects with the agency in each of the 48 continental states.

After his time as the water lab director, Doug became the founding hydrology program director at the National Science Foundation.

While Zhida realizes she can’t influence everyone to become a hydrologist, she hopes this scholarship inspires more students to take that path.

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Writer: Matilyn Mortensen, matilyn.mortensen@usu.edu, 435-797-7512

Contact: Kade Burnham, kade.burnham@usu.edu