Sustainable Communities TAE conference sets stage for collaborations
November 14, 2013Tweet
You can’t get any more interdisciplinary than an economist and a historian discussing research on fracking. Creating new interdisciplinary research efforts by identifying and communicating what researchers and community members are already doing in terms of sustainable communities was the major goal of the Sustainable Communities Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE) Conference. Held Nov. 2, the conference brought together more than 75 people, including faculty, students and members of the community, to learn from each other and possibly find common research interests.
Organized by the Sustainable Communities TAE committee, the conference included panel presentations and posters across disciplines and interests, and, instead of a keynote at lunch, plenty of time for networking. The committee originally planned to run one session at a time, but instead ran concurrent sessions due to the number of proposals it received.
“We knew that there was interest in the topic, but we underestimated how much,” TAE chair Pamela Mischen said.
“We hope to find out who is doing what at the University and in the community,” said Mischen in her welcoming remarks. “We hope to form some interdisciplinary research groups and encourage these groups to seek external funding.”
“It’s great to see so many turning out for this conference,” said Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “This is a really significant event because it’s the first major event of a transformative initiative for Binghamton University — the TAEs. There have been other workshops and speaker series, but this is the first major event for one of the TAEs to bring people together.
“As a public university, we have a responsibility to try and find answers to the most important questions facing our society and the TAEs are really focused on that,” Nieman said. “The way we think about scholarship and enhance our reputation as a research University increases scholarly activity and output and marks us as a University that’s pursuing discovery in bold new ways that are important.”
Nieman said he was impressed with the breadth of issues being covered at the conference that really speak to “what we’re trying to accomplish with sustainable communities.” Eight panels covered topics including the Binghamton Neighborhood Project, sustainable food and water resources, the power of partnerships, climate change impacts, socio-economic sustainability, community engagement in natural and cultural heritage, and the impact of energy extraction on the local community.
“I hope this conference will bring people together to learn about others on campus, to get some insights into their research and the substance and methodologies they bring to the table,” Nieman said. “Only by getting to know people can you really forge collaboration and it is events like these that will help forge those collaborations.”
At least one collaboration began to germinate at the conference. TAE committee members Florenz Plassmann, professor of economics, and Christopher Morgan-Knapp, associate professor of philosophy, both presented at the conference and have already decided to collaborate on a paper. Plassmann presented on “Managing Water Use During Droughts of Unknown Duration” and Morgan-Knapp presented on “When the Beneficiaries Should Pay: Equity and Historical Carbon Emissions.”
“Our paper will be an adaptation of the pricing mechanism that I presented and that he [Morgan Knapp] thought would be interesting for people in environmental ethics,” Plassmann said. “He will determine the frontier of research in that field and then I will figure out how to relate my research to that field [water]. We’re going to bridge the audience and reach it together.”
After attending the session on the short- and long-term impacts of climate change, David Bradstreet, an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, found himself particularly interested in Assistant Professor of Public Administration George Homsy’s presentation on municipal utilities as a potential engine for sustainability.
“My question to him regarding municipal utilities would be, would his statistics change or look different if he looked at them when they were formed by decades? Some were formed after the war in the ‘40s, the ‘50s were a go-go time, the ‘60s were about social consciousness, and the ‘70s and ‘80s were a go-go time again. In the ‘90s and 2000s we began running into a lot of ‘we can’t afford this,’ shutting down jobs, shipping them off shore. Based on when they were formed, does the community have a tradition of being proactive and more likely to do something to affect climate change, or less likely?
“When he was giving his presentation that’s what popped into my mind; these municipal utilities were formed in very different decades.”
Student involvement was integral to the success of the conference. Robert Cohen was one of the many who presented a poster, his focused on emergency management.
“It’s pretty exciting for me,” Cohen said. “A lot of the folks who came to talk with us had heard of emergency management and understood the concept some governments undertake, but don’t fully understand why it’s important to plan, for example, for what happens when your executive director is suddenly gone.”
“There was a great mix of different disciplines and the presenters managed to present in ways that were very accessible to non-specialists,” Plassmann said. “The questions that were asked showed understanding. They were engaged enough to grasp what was happening.”