Trainee Spotlight – Norma Torres

Jun 27, 2019 | Project 3 (Fate & Transport), PROTECT Team, PROTECT Trainees, Trainee Spotlight

Norma Torres is a PhD candidate pursuing a Civil Engineering Degree at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez, focused in the area on Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. Since spring 2011, Norma has worked under the mentorship of Project 4 Principal Investigator Dr. Ingrid Padilla.

Ingrid Padilla’s mentorship helped Norma improve the quality of her research manuscripts and helped build her confidence to apply for the NSF and Ford Foundation Fellowships. “I feel very lucky to have Dr. Ingrid Padilla as mentor and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with her in PROTECT. Dr. Padilla had helped me in many aspects during my time in graduate school, which has made me feel more confident and more prepared for the working environment. She has always been an inspiration for me and has helped me to grow professionally and personally, and insisted I never give up.”

In the beginning, Norma’s work revolved around equipment preparation for sampling, sample collections, as well as entry and analysis of data; but as she became more involved her passion to contribute to the advancement of research led her to apply for the doctorate program in Civil Engineering to continue her work in Ingrid’s lab. Norma explains that this passion and dedication stems from her ability to “integrate the knowledge acquired in the environmental and water resources engineering area with many aspects related to health, communities and environmental pollution. Through my work, I attempt to provide an understanding of the processes that occur in the environment and provide tools for solution of environmental problems, with the goal of creating a positive effect on human health, ecosystems, and inform better management of water resources.”

Map of Karst Region of Northeastern Puerto Rico, taken from Norma’s “Monitoring and Assessment of Anthropogenic Contaminant Distributions in Karst System” Speaker Presentation at The International Association of Hydrogeologists Conference

While working in Ingrid’s lab over the years, due to her own merits and Ingrid’s mentorship Norma emerged as a leader among her peers, providing support and mentoring to undergraduate and other graduate students in their research tasks by helping in collection, entry and analysis of data used for our project, as well as laboratory and field work support if necessary.

“PROTECT is a very special project for me and since joining the project in 2011, it has impacted my career path in a positive way.  It has helped to define my long term goals and plans and I have had many unique opportunities and experiences that have helped me develop and enhance many professional skills in leadership, communication, networking, and team work skills.” This career development allowed Norma to achieve awards and honors including the 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2018 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, and multiple PROTECT Trainee Development Awards which ultimately funded her travel to conferences where she was able to meet new people, learn about different cultures, and present her research.

However, Norma’s favorite experience during her tenure was when she traveled to at the 43rd International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) Congress in 2016, in Montpellier, France, as part of her Trainee Development Award activity. The experience was a challenge because she was unfamiliar with the country and the culture. The IAH Congress is an important global platform in her field that would expose her to the greater scientific community and allow her the opportunity to network, and learn about how to carry out research in different parts of the world. At this conference, Norma gave a presentation titled, Monitoring and Assessment of Anthropogenic Contaminant Distribution in Karst System, “which explained how the source of contaminants, the hydrogeological properties of the system, and the monitoring schemes affect the spatial and temporal distribution of groundwater contaminants in karst systems of eogenetic character, as those found in northern Puerto Rico.”   

Norma presenting at the 2017 Conference of Ford Fellows

Norma’s biggest challenge while working on PROTECT was living through Hurricane Maria in September 2017. As the mother of a 2-year-old and a researcher on the island, her professional and personal life were drastically affected by the crisis. “I learned how to work with the resources available at that moment, to be creative, to help people who had greater needs than mine. I have learned about the vulnerability of our communities, and the extent of social injustice on our island. But also, I learned that our communities need to be empowered and that they need to learn about the risks associated with contaminated water.” In the professional sense, “The poor conditions of the roads limited the easy access to the laboratory facilities.  Without communications and electricity, I was unable to work on my research, and we were unable to finish a paper review on time, sending it later than expected. But I can say two years later that all I have learned from that terrible experience helped motivate me to continue working on what I love, to be a role model and help present and future generations, and to rebuild a better country in which we can have better resources, better health, and better quality of life.”

Norma is currently working on finishing her dissertation and plans to graduate in December of this year. We are so pleased to have welcomed Norma as a trainee, and are excited to see what her future holds!

Poster Presentations

Characterization of Fate and Transport Processes and Contaminant Distribution in Karst Groundwater Systems, Eleventh International Conference on the Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds, April 8-12, 2018, Palm Springs, Ca. Poster presentation

Correlation of Groundwater Contaminants and Hydrogeological and Anthropogenic Variables in Karst Groundwater Systems, 2017 Conference of Ford Fellows, May 4-5, 2018, Washington, D.C. Poster Presentation.

Speaker Presentations

Monitoring and Assessment of Anthropogenic Contaminant Distributions in Karst System, The International Association of Hydrogeologists Conference, Speaker Presentation


“The influence of hydrogeological and anthropogenic variables on phthalate contamination in eogenetic karst groundwater systems”. (Torres, N.I., Yu, X., Padilla, I.Y., Macchiavelli, R.E., Ghasemizadeh, R., Kaeli, D., Cordero, J.F., Meeker, J.D., Alshawabkeh, A.N. (2018). The influence of hydrogeological and anthropogenic variables on phthalate contamination in eogenetic karst groundwater systems. Environmental Pollution, 237, 298-307).