A team of faculty from Virginia Tech is building international bridges to share resources and knowledge to advance research in sustainable infrastructure. 

Assistant Professor Ralph Hall and Assistant Professor Shalini Misra, both in urban affairs and planning in the School of Public and International Affairs, and Michael Garvin, an associate professor in construction engineering and management in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction have won a grant from the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative to create a new international program to promote collaborative research on sustainable infrastructure development.

To that end, Virginia Tech and the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur have formed the Partnership for Sustainable Infrastructure Development to launch an international program that includes a series of meetings, workshops, research collaborations, and graduate student exchanges as well as a knowledge platform designed to support the virtual and digital exchange of information and data.

The program focuses on research related to sustainable infrastructure, generally defined as infrastructure that is technologically smart, environmentally sound, and responsive to user needs within areas of focus such as housing, urban and rural development, manufacturing, agriculture, communications, transportation, energy, and water.

“If you think about it, all of these disciplines are naturally integrated, but too often we tend to break things up and look at only one piece,” said Hall. “This initiative is offering a great opportunity for faculty with different areas of expertise to connect and work together, advancing knowledge beyond one field.”  

Anne Khademian, director of the School of Public and International Affairs, said the school, with its own interdisciplinary curriculum, research, and outreach efforts, strongly backs this approach. “In partnership with the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, we have made a strong commitment to the project by supporting Ralph’s work on this program and by funding a graduate assistant to work with the Virginia Tech faculty team,” she said.

The primary objectives of the new venture are to establish a long-term relationship between the two universities, develop the next generation of infrastructure professionals through scholar exchange, create educational material to reform existing curriculum related to sustainable infrastructure engineering and development, initiate collaborative research, and finally, to disseminate knowledge created through the partnership.

To facilitate collaboration and information sharing between two campuses located in different time zones more than 7,000 miles apart, the team has created an online knowledge platform to connect the two institutions. As this platform expands, it will include a database of researchers and students interested in sustainability and sustainable infrastructure and offer the ability to search for researchers based on interests and expertise. The site will also offer sub-spaces where collaborators can work on specific research or teaching projects.

Earlier this year, Virginia Tech faculty members met with their colleagues from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur who traveled to both the National Capital Region and Blacksburg to discuss areas of research collaboration and new courses to be created and/or transferred and to review potential topics for a project workshop.

While in Northern Virginia, the Indian university representatives met with Khademian and other faculty in Alexandria and, during a meeting at Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, were joined by Satish Kulkarni, director Energy Initiatives at Virginia Tech, and representatives from the U.S. Department of State and the National Science Foundation. In Blacksburg, the representatives met with Brian Kleiner, director of the Myers Lawson School of Construction, and other Virginia Tech faculty.

The next in-person meeting will again be held in Virginia in Fall 2013. “We are planning small group discussions with Virginia Tech faculty about research in progress and hope to identify signature research projects for the initiative,” said Hall.