Making IGERTS work
The first day of the conference (Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007) began with overviews of IGERT programs and how they work.
Dr. Van Hartesveldt’s Introductory talk:IGERT at the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation’s mission is oriented to the future, and studies showed a need for the next generation of scientists to transcend traditional disciplinary specialties and academic enclaves to deal with complex, real-world issues. The IGERT project was created to respond to that need by developing emerging interdisciplinary sciences and catalyzing change in higher learning. The goal is to foster a new generation of engineers and scientists with broader and more versatile approaches to problem solving. NSF issued the first IGERT grants in 1998, and so far has funded about 4,000 trainees at almost 100 institutions. Compared to traditional graduate education, IGERT projects are more interdisciplinary, collaborative, international, diverse and likely to reach beyond academia to communities. This meeting reflects IGERTs’ growth, maturation and outreach.
Gary Kofinas -The Social-Ecological Challenge
The Earth System is undergoing rapid directional change, requiring that science and decision makers view Earth System dynamics through holistic frameworks. Sustainability science offers an opportunity for reframing the conventional enterprise of knowledge production by focusing on the integration of cultural, ecological, economic, and institutional dimensions of the system. As we develop skills as sustainability scientists, we recall the efforts of those who have come before. The crossing of disciplinary boundaries in ecology and social science is not new at the academy. And, today we find that our institutions are indeed responding to the interdisciplinary challenge. Today there are many new employment opportunities for those with interdisciplinary synthesis and problem solving skills in sustainability, yet the terrain ahead is not well charted. Sustainability science training for PhD students requires careful attention to a number of key questions. Sustainability for and of what? How do researchers appropriately involve stakeholders, local communities, and the public in science? What is the role of “objective science” and alternative worldviews for knowledge and knowledge production? What are the roles of science in social learning and the policy process? How do PhD students achieve the right balance of breadth & depth in their topic areas? How do we train sustainability IGERT students to serve in interdisciplinary teams as well as preparing them as transdisciplinary individuals? What are the special challenges facing faculty members who seek to teach and engage in sustainability science? How do we Institutionalize sustainability science as part of the graduate curriculum at universities? Given that sustainability science requires a high level of collaboration, how do we teach and foster teamwork among students and faculty? While there are many unanswered questions, there are also many opportunities.
Profiles of Sustainability IGERTs:
- "Urban ecology of a rapidly urbanizing region,” Dr Charles Redman, Arizona State University
- “Integrating research on sustainability and biodiversity conservation: an interdisciplinary team-based model,” Dr. Nilsa Bosque-Perez and Ruth Dahlquist, University of Idaho.
- “Adaptive management: Wise use of water, wetlands & watersheds,” Dr. Mark Brown, University of Florida.
- “Assessing change in coastal ecosystems: Integrating natural and social sciences,” Dr. Q Kellogg, University of Rhode Island.
- “Northern sustainability in a directionally changing world,” Dr. Stuart (Terry) Chapin and Chanda Meek, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
- “Vulnerability and sustainability in coupled human-natural systems,” Dr. Rob Beattie and Abby Popp, University of Wisconsin Madison
Discussion comparing IGERTs:
Participants divided into groups for brainstorming sessions. Their task was to compare IGERTs; explore similarities & differences; and identify models (i.e. approaches) of sustainability graduate education and training.
Common threads identified among IGERTs included:
- Focus on addressing broad, complex sustainability problems.
- Presentation of approaches and tools from diverse disciplines to address such problems.
- Core curriculum offering integrative, foundational approaches such as systems or resilience theory.
- Partnerships with diverse cultures, stakeholder groups, or academic disciplines.
- Emphasis on practical applications through approaches such as internships and community outreach.
- How best to integrate disciplinary diversity.
- Making IGERTs relevant to individual students’ needs.
- Overcoming skepticism of other faculty.
- Stable and adequate funding for students beyond the second year.
Students noted that IGERTs span a spectrum from fostering individual transdisciplinary expertise to building teams composed of researchers with complementary specialties. Other differences included place-based versus problem-based programs, and the role of students rather than faculty in shaping program content.
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