Meet new faculty member James Knighton

James Knighton in a snow-covered outdoor area, wearing a dark jacket and gray knit hat with snowflake pattern, holding a white plastic bottle.
James Knighton

The Department of Natural Resources and the Environment welcomes new faculty member James Knighton as an assistant professor specializing in hydrological modeling and flood risk. His primary goal as a teacher is to prepare his students for the workforce. As an engineer out in the field, he noticed differences in the preparedness of new hires. He wants his students to be ready to hit the ground running and experience less stress in their early careers. On a personal note, when he and his wife visited the Storrs area, they felt it was a perfect place to live, as they are expecting their first child in October. Here’s what he had to say in an interview.

Where did you get your degrees?

I received my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Drexel University and master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in environmental studies. My Ph.D. is from Cornell University Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering.

What did you do before coming to UConn?

After my bachelor’s degree, I worked as an engineer performing riverine water quality modeling and pluvial flood risk analysis for the City of Philadelphia. I then worked for Enercon Services, analyzing the flood risk of US nuclear facilities and performed applied research to improve coastal flood risk methodologies. Just prior to joining UConn, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), where I studied the relationship between the human and physical dimensions of flooding risk across U.S. metropolitan areas and whether preserving forest cover could mitigate the downstream impact of floods.

What will your work here at UConn focus on?

My teaching will be focused on the fundamentals of hydrology, process-based hydrologic models (meaning they are based somewhat on our understanding of the physics of water movement) and data analytic methods for carrying out cool research projects with big messy datasets.

My research is focused on several areas that all involve building and using hydrologic models. First, I plan to continue my research into how forest cover and climate change will impact future regional flooding. I also plan to carry out research on fine-scale water movement in the rooting zone (from just below the ground surface, down to the maximum depth of plant roots) with naturally occurring isotopes in water. Finally, I will continue my research on socio-hydrological systems, understanding why the perceptions, vulnerabilities and responses of US communities to flooding risk seems to vary. Specifically, I am interested in understanding the pathways of flood exposure and loss that disproportionately impact under-represented groups across the United States.

Name one aspect of your work that you really like.

The best part of my job is that I get to spend all day discussing and debating topics I enjoy with people that I like. Also, my research is broad enough that I can go out in the field on really nice days and stay inside and work on modeling projects when it’s not so nice.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I am a big baseball fan (Philadelphia Phillies). I love to cook dinner while listening to the Phillies radio announcers Scott and Larry (and sometimes Kevin). I like running but am not very good at it. I enjoy hikes with my family. My favorite recent comic series are Killadelphia, Old Man Quill and Cosmic Ghost Rider. I am currently reading The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (not a comic, but a real book). My favorite video game is Dark Souls. My favorite game of last year was Baba is You (though I admittedly didn’t play very many new games). My current favorite podcasts are How Did This Get Played? and Two Old Queens.

By Kim Colavito Markesich