Urban Sustainability & Environmental Health Research Cluster

Welcome to the Urban Sustainability & Environmental Health (USEH) Research Cluster at the University of Michigan-Flint. The cluster was created out of a growing need to bring researchers, practitioners, and students with an interest or expertise in urban health and environmental science together to address topics ranging from sustainable and connected communities, to public health policy and resilient ecosystems. Considering that more than half of humanity now lives in cities, and ecological systems continue to be stressed, we believe that researchers from a myriad of disciplines are needed to promote planetary health. Therefore, the research group is interdisciplinary by design and have expertise in: healthy cities, public health, urban planning and policy, interactive marketing, data science, geospatial technology, environmental management, urban design, graphic art and design, chemistry, engineering, sociology, psychology, and computer science.


  • Drive scientific research among UM-Flint researchers, and their domestic and international partners, on critical urban and environmental health issues
  • Become a focal point for information exchange and cooperation among faculty, graduate students, practitioners, and community partners
  • Foster applied research and engage policy issues to improve our understanding of the interfaces among urban-environmental-health systems
  • To produce usable evidence, resulting from scientific publications and grant-funded projects, policy-makers can use to enhance the health of urban and natural areas

Current Research

We are developing a variety of interdisciplinary research proposals and have several projects within two main themes:

Ecosystem Management

Flint River Restoration
This project will evaluate current conditions in the Flint River in the City of Flint to support existing water quality improvement efforts intended by the Flint River Restoration Efforts.

Flint Drinking Water Assessment
Toxin monitoring in Flint drinking water. Evaluation of toxins in early embryonic development will ultimately be examined.

Urban Health Equity

Urban Foraging in Detroit
Urban agriculture is gaining some attention in cities throughout the world as a means to alleviate food insecurity, help restore ecosystems, and promote a deeper connection between nature and humans. Considering these, the goal of this project is to explore the physical and social neighborhood conditions which may support urban foraging behavior in Detroit, Michigan. The results of this study should assist practitioners with enacting policy to promote a forage-rich urban environment.


Reza Amini, PhD
Reza Amini  holds a PhD in sociology of aging, a Medical Doctorate (General Medicine), and a Master of Public Health. Within the last five years, he studied health care utilization and cognitive function among older adults living in the community. His educational background and research experience in public health enables him to cut across tightly-related disciplines and provide novel ideas about health determinants, including social determinants of health and people’s quality of life at the local, national, and international levels. Before starting his PhD, fifteen years of clinical practice experience and studying health problems and health needs among Iran-Iraq war survivors provided him with a deep insight into public health. One of Dr. Amini’s fundamental questions is how we can sustain or even enhance quality of life, particularly in later life when it is significantly affected by physiological dysfunction and lower social engagement levels.

Halil Bisgin, PhD
Google Scholar | Researchgate | Orcid | LinkedIn | Twitter
Halil Bisgin is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan-Flint (UMF). He received his PhD in Integrated Computing-Computer Science from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), where he also taught and served as a graduate committee member.

Before joining UM-Flint, Bisgin was actively involved in FDA-funded projects at the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), where he took part in data mining projects, such as topic extraction on tobacco documents and patient narratives in the FDA repository. His work there has been recognized with FDA Group Recognition Award.

Having a B.S in Mathematics from Koc University in Turkey, Bisgin also holds master’s degrees in Applied Computing from UALR and Computational Science and Engineering from Istanbul Technical University. His exposure to interdisciplinary research encouraged him to train himself in various fields, and therefore, his research expertise and work cover the fields of bioinformatics, data mining, information retrieval, and social network analysis.

Francine Cullari
Francine Cullari has been the deputy director for federally-funded water quality, urban housing and transportation systems programs for the tri-county area surrounding Flint.

Heather Dawson, PhD
Google Scholar | ResearchGate
Heather Dawson is an Associate Professor of Biology at University of Michigan-Flint. She and her students study ways to improve the management of sea lampreys who are invasive to the Great Lakes by using field, laboratory, and modeling approaches. They work with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, U.S. Geological Survey, and Michigan State Quantitative Fisheries Center. She and her students also collect data on fishes, invertebrates, habitat, and water quality of the Flint River at the Hamilton Dam site to study the area pre-, during, and post-restoration.

Benjamin Gaydos
Benjamin Gaydos is a Detroit-based designer and educator. Ben has conducted research in design and anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received an MFA in Visual Communication/Design. He has presented his work at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Harvard University, and MIT’s Media Lab, among other institutions. Ben is co-founder and principal of goodgood, a social impact design studio with offices in Boston and Detroit. He is founding editor and creative director at Flint Magazine; a producer and designer for Sensate Journal at Harvard University; and the director of the Community Design Studio in Flint. Ben is Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and Associate Professor of Design at The University of Michigan – Flint, where he is faculty fellow at the Urban Institute for Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice.

Andy Deck
Andy Deck is a media artist specialized in participative online media. Deck is a co-founder of the environmental arts collective Transnational Temps, which has made extensive use of digital media in its global efforts to disseminate Earth Art for the 21st century.TM The collective has conducted youth-focused workshops that address environmental awareness in the urban context. The collective’s exhibitions include the ground-breaking ECOMEDIA Ecological Strategies in Today’s Art. Before coming to UM-Flint in 2019, he taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and in the graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Deck’s work has been featured on the Artport of the Whitney Museum of American Art and at the Tate Online in the United Kingdom. He has been the recipient of numerous grants and commissions, and has been included in major exhibitions of Net Art such as net_condition at the Media Art Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Jacob Lederman, PhD
Google Scholar
Dr. Lederman is a scholar of cities, politics, and urban governance. His past research has examined the political economy of urban change in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This research focused upon the local adoption of globally-circulating urban sustainability policies and their transformation of existing territorial patterns and forms of inequality.

Murali Mani, PhD
Google Scholar | ResearchGate
Murali Mani is a Professor in Computer Science at University of Michigan, Flint. His research interests are in database systems. Specifically, Mani’s significant current and past projects are related to provenance, secure query processing, analytics, event stream processing, XML stream processing, data modeling using XML schemas, and computer science education. Further, he has taught courses related to information storage and retrieval, algorithms and programming.

Nathan Miller
Google Scholar
Nathaniel Miller is an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan-Flint. His primary research focuses on interventions for Parkinson’s disease, such as community-based exercise interventions. He is also developing a mobile-device application to measure motor activity in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Greg Rybarczyk, PhD
Website | Google Scholar | ResearchGate | ORCiD | Twitter | LinkedIn
Dr. Rybarczyk is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Michigan-Flint. He holds an Affiliated Faculty appointment with the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS) and is a Fellow at The Center for Urban Design and Mental Health (UK). He is also an Editorial Advisor for the journal Cities & Health (Taylor and Francis) and was recently a Visiting Professor at Bergische University Wuppertal (Germany) – Department of Urban Studies & Sustainable Infrastructure Planning.

He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has published extensively on topics related to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), active transportation, travel behavior, urban design, intermodal transportation, public health, spatial modeling, geosocial-media analysis, and food insecurity. He is an active member of the Association of American Geographers, Michigan League of Bicyclists, Citizen Action Committee for the Detroit Regional Transit Authority, Transportation Research Board-Transport & Health Study Group, and Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals-Education Sub-committee.

Melissa Starking
Google Scholar | ResearchGate
Melissa Starking is a Lecturer in the Biology Department and a Dual PhD candidate within the Fisheries and Wildlife Department and Ecology, Evolutionary, and Behavior Program at Michigan State University. Her research interests broadly include the link between human land use and wildlife responses, wildlife/habitat relationships, conservation of threatened, endangered species and ecosystems, animal behavior, and the spatial ecology of wildlife. Her research has spanned across multiple habitats in Michigan collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, USFWS, Detroit Zoological Society, private industries, special interest groups, and the public.

Charlotte Tang, PhD
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Charlotte Tang is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Engineering and Physics at the University of Michigan-Flint. She holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Calgary, AB, Canada. She has broad research interests that focus on human-computer interaction, computer-supported cooperative work, health informatics, and universal usability. She has rich experience in conducting field studies with different user groups such as clinicians, older adults, children, and underprivileged populations in a variety of settings including hospitals, homes and public spaces. Her current research includes investigating the use of telehealth technologies among pediatricians and caregivers of children, designing and developing applications to facilitate LGBTQ+ individuals’ health information, and services seeking and to help Parkinson’s patients to track and monitor their symptoms.

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD
Website | Google Scholar | ResearchGate
Rebecca Tonietto is an Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Michigan-Flint. From 2015 – 2017, Rebecca was a David H. Smith Conservation Research Program Fellow studying the impacts of urban agriculture on bee conservation in shrinking cities in the Midwest. Over the past decade she has studied native bee communities and how to best support them in cities and restored landscapes from prairies to green roofs to urban farms.

Stephen Turner, PhD
Cluster Leader
Google Scholar | ResearchGate  | ORCiD | LinkedIn
Dr. Turner is an Associate Professor of Computer Science in the College of Innovation and Technology at the University of Michigan-Flint. He has research interests in computer networks, Smart Grid, Smart Cities, and Intelligent Transportation Systems, as well as a developing interest in security applied to these areas. Another interest is pedagogical research, with activities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Most recently, he is examining smart charging strategies employing blockchain and software defined networking within parking structures, as well as the use of epidemic protocols in the dissemination of information in transportation systems.

Suleyman Uludag, PhD
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Suleyman Uludag (Member, IEEE, ACM) received the PhD degree in computer science from DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, in 2007. He is currently a Professor of Computer Science with the University of Michigan-Flint. His research interests include security, privacy, and optimization of data collection. He received the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Core Award in 2012 and 2018.

Besa Xhabija, PhD
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Dr. Xhabija is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 2016 and 2017, Dr. Xhabija served as a postdoctoral fellow in Wayne State University’s Department of Oncology and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. Utilizing experimental, genomics, and bioinformatics approaches, her research focused on the epigenetic mechanisms of stem cell fate, genome stability, and cancer epigenetics, reprogramming, and transdifferentiation. Specifically, Dr. Xhabija employed experimental and computational tools to study the role of histone demethylases (e.g., KDM5B) and histone methyltransferases (e.g., SMYD5) in stem cell function, development, and genome stability.

Linda Zhu
Google Scholar
Linda Zhu is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her research is in the field of noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) and signal processing, focusing on the application in mechanical and bio-engineering. She’s currently working on the projects of non-destructive evaluation and failure analysis of nanocomposites, Parkinson’s Disease tremor measurement, and neural computation in the auditory brain structure for tinnitus diagnosis and treatment.

Recent Publications, Presentations, & Grants


2019 and prior:

  • S. W. Turner and S. Uludag, “Towards Smart Cities: Interaction and Synergy of the Smart Grid and Intelligent Transportation Systems,” in Smart Grid: Networking, Data Management and Business Models, CRC Press, 2016.
  • M. Allison and S. W. Turner, “Designing a Community Aware Virtual Learning Infrastructure for STEM”, IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference 2017 (ISEC ’17), (Princeton, New Jersey), March 2017.
  • S. W. Turner and S. Uludag, “Intelligent Transportation as the Key Enabler of Smart Cities,” in IEEE/IFIP Network Operations and Management Symposium (NOMS) Workshop PASC 2016, (Istanbul, Turkey), April 2016.
  • S. W. Turner, M. Allison, Z. Syed, and M. Farmer, “Towards a Flipped Cyber Classroom to Facilitate Active Learning Strategies”, the 2015 Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE 2015), El Paso, Texas, October 21-24, 2015.
  • Morckel, V.C. & Terzano, K. (2019). Legacy city residents’ lack of trust in their governments: An examination of Flint, Michigan residents’ trust at the height of the water crisis. Journal of Urban Affairs, 41(5), 585-601. doi: 10.1080/07352166.2018.1499415


  • Amini, R., Kawser, B. (2020): The impact of the interaction between mild and mild-to-moderate cognitive impairment with chronic health problems on hospital admission among community-dwelling older adults. Geriatrics & Gerontology International. doi: 10.1111/ggi.14070 
  • Dharia N., Gaydos B., and O’Brien M., “First Things First 2020,” Climate Designers, May 2020. https://www.firstthingsfirst2020.org/
  • Groesbeck, F., Kodjebacheva, G., Walker, L., Campbell, K., Manuela-Abad, T., Tang, C. (2020). Use of health information technology in pediatric care in Genesee County, MI. Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center Research Symposium.
  • Katz, B., Turney, I., Lee, J.H., Amini, R., Ajrouch, K.J., Antonucci, T.C. (2020): Race/Ethnic Differences in Social Resources as Cognitive Risk and Protective Factors. Research in Human Development, 17:1, 57-77, DOI: 10.1080/15427609.2020.174380
  • Martinez, T. and Tang, C. (2020). Design Implications for Health Technology to support LGBTQ+ Community: a literature review. The 14th EAI International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (Online – COVID-19). 
  • Monear C. N., Xhabija B. “The effect of lead during the Flint water crisis on mouse embryonic stem cells self-renewal and differentiation markers”. 2020. In Vitro Toxicology, Mar;63.
  • Rybarczyk, G., A. Ozbil, E. Andresen, and Z. Hayes. (2020) “Physiological responses to urban design during bicycling: A naturalistic investigation,” Transportation Research Part F: Psychology and Behaviour, 68: 79-93, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2019.12.001
  • Walters, M., G.J. Roloff, J. Hartman, M. Donovan, C. Henry, E. Farinosi, M.D. Starking. 2020. Rethinking Northern Hardwood Forest Management Paradigms with Silvicultural Systems Research: Research–Management Partnerships Ensure Relevance and Application, Journal of Forestry
  • Zhu, N. & Miller, N. S. (2020). Assessment system for Parkinson’s disease tremor and correlation analysis with applied signal processing algorithms. Journal of Engineering and Science in Medical Diagnostics and Therapy, 3(4), 1-8.


  • Miehls, S., Dawson, H.A., Maguffee, A.C., Johnson, N.S., Jones, M.L., Dobiesz, N. (2021). Where you trap matters: implications for integrated sea lamprey management. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 47, S320-S327. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2020.06.023
  • Dawson, H.A., Allison, M. (2021). Requirements for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for scientific data collection in the Laurentian Great Lakes: a questionnaire survey. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 47, 259-265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2020.11.004
  • Dawson, H.A., Higgins-Weier, C.E., Steeves, T.B., Johnson, N.S. (2021). Estimating age and growth of invasive sea lamprey: a review of approaches and investigation of a new method. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 47, S570-S579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2020.06.002.
  • Tonietto, O’Brien, L., Van Haitsma, C., Su, C., Blankertz, N., Mosiniak, H. G. S., Short, C., & Dawson, H. A. (2021). Toward a carbon neutral campus: a scalable approach to estimate carbon storage and biosequestration, an example from University of Michigan. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 22(5), 1108–1124. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2020-0188.
  • Rybarczyk. G. and R.R. Shaker. (2021) “Predicting bicycle-on-board transit choice in a university environment” Sustainability, 13(2): 512; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020512


  • Rybarczyk, G. “Bicycle-on-board feasibility: A spatial investigation in Flint, Michigan.” Annual Association of American Geographers Meeting, February 25 – March 1, 2022
  • Thelen, M. , Mazumder, F. , Zhu, L. , Miller, N. , Tang, C. , “Reliability Test of Mobile Embedded Accelerometers In Measuring Postural Stability for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease”, ASME 2022 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition (IMECE), Oct 30 – Nov 3, 2022
  • Summers, C., Elkins, A. Konzer, C. Dawson, H.A.. Assessing Flint River ecology above and below a dam scheduled for removal. Oral presentation to the American Fisheries Society, Spokane, WA, August 2022
  • Jeske, M., Dawson, H.A. Water Quality Evaluation and Comparison of Several Urban Michigan Rivers. Oral presentation to the American Fisheries Society, Spokane, WA, August 2022
  • Dawson, H.A., Maguffee, A.C., Jones, M.L. A novel application of Management Strategy Evaluation to optimize management of an invasive parasitic fish in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Oral presentation to the American Fisheries Society, Spokane, WA, August 2022
  • Summers, C., Elkins, A., Konzer, C., Dawson, H.A. Assessing the Ecology of the Flint River: Diversity of Species Above and Below a Century-Old Dam. Poster presentation to the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting, Grand Rapids, MI, May 2022
  • Dawson, H.A., Higgins-Weier, C.E., Steeves, T.B., Johnson, N.S. Estimating age and growth of invasive sea lamprey: a review of approaches and investigation of a new method. Oral presentation to the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting, Grand Rapids, MI, May 2022
  • Dawson, H.A., Maguffee, A.C., Jones, M.L. A novel application of Management Strategy Evaluation to optimize management of an invasive parasitic fish in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Oral presentation to the World Fisheries Congress, September 2021, Virtual
  • Dawson, H.A., Allison, M. Requirements for AUVs for scientific data collection in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A questionnaire survey. Oral presentation to the International Association of Great Lakes Research, May 2021, Virtual
  • Dawson, H.A. (2021). Assessment of environmental health and ecological function in and along the Flint River: A pre-restoration baseline. Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center Meeting, Virtual
  • Rybarczyk, G. “Assessing the potential for increasing intermodal transportation travel in a university town” Annual Association of American Geographers Meeting, April 7-11, 2021
  • Zhu, L. , Miller, N. , Tang, C. , Pendyala, S. , Hanses, Q. , and Gladding, L. , “Reliability Check of an Assessment System for Parkinson’s Disease Tremor Monitoring with Portable Devices”, ASME 2021 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition (IMECE), November 1 – 5, 2021.
  • Rybarczyk, G. and S. Banerjee, “Coupling Twitter syntax with GIS operations: The benefits and costs of extending sentiment analysis to travel mode and geography.” #UMTweetCon2019, Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 23, 2019.
  • Morckel, V. & Hanlon, B. (2019). The effects of the water crisis on housing and mobility in Flint, Michigan. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Washington DC.


  • Rybarczyk, G., Feng, F., “The e-bike boom: Examining key safety factors on e-bike potential to promote sustainability and equity in Detroit,” 2022, ($39,866), University of Michigan-Dearborn – University of Michigan-Flint Collaborative Research Grant, Role: PI
  • 2022, Dawson, H.A., Xhabija, B. Use of fish biomarkers in urban vs. reference river systems in Michigan as a proxy of river health. Funded by Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation. $4,990 to UM-Flint.
  • 2022, Adams, J.V., Dawson, H.A., Allison, M., White, T., Anderson, J., Deng, Z.D., Wagner, C.M., Booth, R.M.W., Lowe, M.R., Symbal, M. Reconnaissance: tracking outmigration of sea lampreys as they seek their first host. Funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, $993 to UM-Flint.
  • 2021, Dawson, H.A., Jones, M.L., Symbal, M. Evaluation of lampricide treatment deployment strategies in an operating model of the control program to maximize reductions in sea lamprey abundance. Technical Assistance Project funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, $5,549 to UM-Flint.
  • Dawson, H.A. “Highlighting the health and distribution of the Flint River before and after dam removal,” 2020-2021, ($23,200) Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network. 
  • Dawson, H.A. “Using inclusive practices to empower residents to engage with the Flint River,” 2020 ($11,951) W. K. Kellogg Foundation through a Flint Truth and Action Partnership Project Grant. 
  • Gaydos, B. “Investigating Coronavirus Vaccination Intentions Among Vulnerable Populations,” 2021, ($5,000) Edward Ginsberg Center, Ann Arbor. 
  • Gaydos, B. “Flint, for Wayfinding: Alternate Eco/nomic Commons,” 2019, ($10,000) EDA University Center for Community & Economic Development Research Fund. 
  • Rybarczyk, G., et. al. “Examining disparities in food access and enhancing the food security of underserved populations in Michigan,” 2012, ($4,000,000) USDA. Role: Co-PI
  • Tonietto, R. “The Porch Project: Community building, neighborhood enhancements, and pollinator conservation in the Eastside Neighborhood of Flint,” 2018 ($20,000) UM-Flint Research and Creative Activity Award.
  • Tonietto, R. “The Porch Project: Community building, neighborhood enhancements, and pollinator conservation in the Eastside Neighborhood of Flint,” 2019 ($9,408) W. K. Kellogg Foundation through a Flint Truth and Action Partnership Project Grant.
  • Zhu, N., Miller N., and Tang C. “Using Body Worn Sensors to Measure Movement and Movement Feedback Following Exercise Interventions”, M-cube, University of Michigan, $60k, 2018-2021.
  • Zhu, N. “Diagnose of Tinnitus-Related Neural Activities in the Brain Auditory Structures with Applied Signal Processing Technologies”, Research & Creative Activity (RCA) and Bryer Fund, University of Michigan – Flint, $14,640, 2018-2019.