New School of Earth and Sustainability Launched

Curt Griffin
Curt Griffin

Nearly 200 people attended the official launch of the new School of Earth and Sustainability (SES) on April 19 in the atrium of the Design Building, where founding director Curt Griffin thanked Provost Katherine S. Newman, Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS), and other adminstrators, faculty and staff who worked hard over the past few years to make the school a reality.

The SES is a partnership among the CNS and its departments of environmental conservation, geosciences and environmental microbiology, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and its department of landscape architecture and regional planning. Griffin thanked Goodwin and Newman for being “wonderful advocates for the new school,” noting that it takes support from the top to create such major change.

Griffin said the SES is the only one of its kind in New England and it creates a rich environment for students and faculty to “make a big difference in the world,” with the largest and most diverse set of environmental sustainability programs. He adds, “At UMass, we have enormous capacity to become a national leader for research and the destination of choice for students interested in applied environmental disciplines such as climate sciences, food systems, biodiversity and conservation, clean energy, the built environment and social and environmental justice, just to name a few.”

Newman said she felt “incredibly proud of what is being achieved here today.” Establishing the SES is important, she added, “for scientific, practical and symbolic reasons,” because there is “no question that students and faculty will be addressing some of the premier issues facing the world today. I am very proud that our campus is taking a leadership role.” Shealso urged the audience never to discount the symbolism in the fact that “this campus puts quality of life front and center.” She added, “I congratulate you in your new school, and could not be more proud of you.”

Goodwin recalled that on the first Earth Day in 1970 he was in high school, and “the UMass School of Earth and Sustainability would have been the perfect place for me, but it didn’t exist then.” Today, he called the SES “a textbook example” of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He added, “You can’t come to a mission of understanding the planet and life on the planet from just one perspective. You need to come with many different approaches” to address not only climate but challenges facing water, food, energy and other resources. “So on behalf of all the students who are going to come through these doors in the future, thank you for creating this new school.”

The event included a student poster session and six-minute “lightning talks” by graduate students on environmental issues, earth sciences and sustainability. Stockbridge School director Wes Autio said these are very helpful as a way for research groups to succinctly share with others what they are doing, which can foster collaborations.

The keynote speaker was Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and professor of psychology at Yale Law School and a scholar in the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale, a group studying how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs.