Water Scarcity Wins the Day at the 13th Cohort Launch

UMass iCons 13th Cohort Launch | December 3, 2022

On December 3, 2022, the 13th cohort of the UMass iCons Program was launched. The UMass iCons Program is a certificate in real-world problem solving open to science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and business undergraduates.

After receiving a record number of applicants in Fall 2022, an increase of over 27% from the previous year, 72 new students were welcomed into the program. This cohort represents 23 different majors across 6 colleges at UMass Amherst, with 63% of students identifying as BIPOC and 69% identifying as non-male.

A new iCons student studying biomedical engineering said he came to UMass “interested in interdisciplinary research,” and when he learned about iCons, he said, “That sounds exactly like what I want to do, where do I sign up?”

Pics of students at Cohort LaunchThe primary purpose of the iCons new cohort launch is for iCons students to reach a consensus on the real-world problem that will be tackled first in their upcoming iCons 1 course in Spring 2023. This year’s first case study will focus on Water Scarcity, a multifaceted problem that combines STEM and business in agriculture, climate, energy, and health. When iCons students were asked how they felt about having the responsibility of choosing the big problem for iCons 1, students said they felt “empowered,” “hopeful,” “excited,” and “productive.”

Water Scarcity is a particularly interesting topic for iCons students to tackle as the program will be launching a new track in Food-Water-Climate in 2024. This endeavor is led by Dr. Anita Milman, a professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation and a world-renowned policy expert in water utilization.

The event hosted new and current iCons students, iCons instructors, and several guests including Jay Leonard from the Isenberg School of Management, Dr. Christine Hatch from the Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences, and Jacob Lindeman from the College of Engineering and former iCons Innovator in Residence. Two of the newest iCons Teaching Fellows, Dr. Nicholas Tooker and Dr. Paul Wolff were also welcomed.

The first part of the day was led by Dr. Scott Auerbach, the Mahoney Family Sponsored Executive Director of the iCons Program. Students were given the opportunity to meet their peers and determine a set of values they want to practice throughout their iCons career. Students agreed on the importance of many values including empathy, respect, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

Pics of students at Cohort LaunchThe second half of the day was the selection of the first case study and this process was led by Dr. Justin Fermann and Dr. Wei Fan, two of the instructors of the first iCons course (iCONS 189H - Global Challenges, Scientific Solutions). Students were asked to work as a cohort to choose the global problem to study. Students pitched, discussed, and debated many problems including healthcare accessibility, drought, allergies, greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact of climate change on health.

Check out photos of the day.


The mission of the UMass iCons Program is to inspire a diverse generation of innovators in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business with the attitudes and skills needed to solve problems facing our world. Building on the disciplinary strength of each student’s major, iCons projects at all levels involve collaborative student teams working on cross-disciplinary communication and integrative problem-solving skills.