Gund Fellow, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Donna has over 25 years of experience with machine learning and heuristic optimization methods that 1) enable social issues (essentially penalties for not meeting constraints) to be placed on the site/stakeholder objective functions, and 2) provide stakeholders with a suite of "optimal" solutions rather than a single design, allowing consideration of the trade-offs between costs, risks, and assumptions. The focus of her Ph.D. and private sector experience involved field-scale applications of multi-objective optimization, much of this done while working with prior Gund fellows and a few who remain on as Gund Affiliates.

Since Donna's arrival at UVM she has collaborated with faculty and students across five different UVM colleges on a number of computational approaches to multi-scale environmental problems, including: the evaluation of human impacts to surface waters and groundwaters; lake Cyanobacteria bloom research; and assessing linkages between stream geomorphic, water quality, and habitat metrics/parameters. Collaborating with microbiologists around the world has led to the development and application of new tools for characterizing the spatial structure of microbial communities in municipal landfill leachate-contaminated groundwater environments, and tracking these changes through time at discrete monitoring locations using molecular-based techniques.

Awards and Recognition

  • Received the 2011 Jackie M. Gribbons Leadership Award, from the Vermont Women in Higher Education. The award honors women who demonstrate leadership ability, serve as models and mentors, develop innovative programs, and contribute significantly to an institution of higher learning and their profession.
  • Nominated for the UVM Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012; this university-wide award highlights faculty for excellent classroom instruction.
  • Nominated for the 2012 UVM George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award; this university-wide award focuses on quality teaching and dedication to the enhancement of the academic experience for undergraduate students.
  • Received the 2007 Outstanding Faculty Woman Award, Nominated by students; the award honors faculty who have made significant contributions to the lives of women on campus through service, teaching & scholarship.
  • Received a 2005-2006 UVM Service-Learning Faculty Fellowship.
  • One of 15 people selected in a national competition to attend a 12-week workshop at the Advanced Computing Laboratory at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Spring 1993).
  • Member, Sigma Xi (national honor society for recognizing scientific achievement).
  • Received the 1990-1991 Graduate Teaching Fellow of the Year, UVM Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering.
  • Received a GPOP Fellowship (Financed 100% of M.S. Degree), University of California, Irvine.
  • UREP Scholarship, UC Berkeley, to participate in an archaeological excavation in Sardinia, Italy, 1987. § Honors Program, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1980-1984.
  • Member, Chi Epsilon, Civil Engineering Honor Society since 1982.
  • S.B. Penick Science Scholarship, 1980.
  • AFS Scholarship to teach English in Turkey, 1980. 
Donna Rizzo

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

Development of new computational tools to improve the understanding of human-induced changes on natural systems and the way we make decisions about natural resources


  • PhD, Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Vermont 
  • MS, Civil & Engineering, University of California, Irvine 
  • NA, Art & Archeology, University of Florence, Italy 
  • BS, Civil Engineering (Honors College), University of Connecticut, Storrs


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