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Destination Areas spark creative discussion among science and policy topics

October 24, 2017

Bill Hopkins presents his group's main points
William A. Hopkins (standing), director of the university's Global Change Center, discusses ideas that his group generated during the small group sessions at the workshop.

Today’s global problems, such as food security, clean water, and infectious disease, defy disciplinary silos and government jurisdictions.

That’s why approximately 70 members of Virginia Tech’s Global Systems Science Destination Area (GSS DA) and the Policy Strategic Growth Area (Policy SGA) met recently to identify areas for collaboration.

The all-day workshop, held Sept. 29 at the Inn at Virginia Tech, involved short talks in the morning by faculty-led research teams from science and policy areas.

Topics included freshwater resources, coastal resilience; safety, security, and safeguards in nuclear science and policy; renewable energy policy; smart farms as a global food shortage solution; environmental-human health in rural communities; and the disparities surrounding autism in rural America.

As Karen Roberto, director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, University Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and faculty co-lead for the Policy SGA noted, “the complexity of each of these areas necessitates information from multiple disciplines and require collaborative efforts to analyze, understand, engage, and solve or mitigate.”

In the afternoon, attendees broke into small, mixed science-policy groups to brainstorm opportunities for collaboration, which they presented to the large group. Many groups called for support and enhanced opportunities for interaction through shared spaces or support to collaborate on interdisciplinary courses and research projects. One idea included co-locating faculty from different departments working on a shared topic for a certain period of time, but with a commitment to communicate and collaborate.

“The workshop underscored the desire among faculty to work on boundary-spanning, problem-oriented projects, but also highlighted some of the challenges that must be overcome,” said Todd Schenk, assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Public and International Affairs, member of the Policy SGA, and the day’s facilitator. “Faculty members need to know that they are going to be supported and rewarded for working across traditional disciplinary boundaries, given the challenges involved.”

“Science and policy form an important continuum, from discovery and innovative problem-solving to translational outcomes that improve the human condition and protect the environment,” said William A. Hopkins, one of the workshop co-organizers, a GSS stake holder, and director of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “This workshop was the first step in bringing together diverse scientists, engineers, and social scientists to explore synergistic opportunities at the science-policy interface. The energy during the workshop was palpable, and some exciting ideas for collaboration are already emerging.”

“We hope this workshop is an exemplar for the development of collaborations across the DAs and SGAs at Virginia Tech for which all interested faculty have the opportunity to participate and contribute,” said Dennis Dean, director of the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech, which funded the workshop.

Destination Areas combine Virginia Tech’s existing strengths into novel transdisciplinary teams, tools, and processes that empower students and faculty to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

Strategic Growth Areas have been identified as critical areas for future growth and development, similar to Destination Areas in structure but of smaller scale and aim for regional or national leadership.

More information and a complete list of Destination Areas and Strategic Growth Areas can be found on the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost’s website.

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