A recently established Yale grant will encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in the fields of environmental research and teaching.
The Leitner Awards for Uncommon Environmental Collaboration aim to foster new research and teaching in six areas identified by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ Strategic Plan. Faculty and researchers who have full-time appointments at Yale are eligible to apply for funds to support either new research initiatives and pilot work or the development of new courses for F&ES and Yale College.
The awards, which will provide grants of up to $25,000 for teaching and $75,000 for research, were funded by a donation from James Leitner ’75, president of Falcon Management Corporation.
“I was trying to encourage specialists from different disciplines working together on ideas that will solve global problems,” Leitner said.
The Strategic Plan on which the grant is based was released in May 2017 and acts as a call to action for addressing global environmental challenges over the next several years. The six areas identified by the plan are climate change, environmental communications, environmental data science, environmental justice, urban systems and the environment, and environmental health and interdisciplinary team teaching.
According to Leitner, solving global problems requires interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, determining solutions to climate change and how to implement them — one of the six areas identified in the Strategic Plan — requires the concentrated efforts of environmental scientists, economists and anthropologists, while urban systems and the environment — another area identified in the Plan — requires collaboration between experts in public health, nursing, forestry and architecture, since a thriving urban area incorporates elements from all these fields. Leitner emphasized the relevance of this area, as more and more people are moving into cities.
Sara Smiley Smith, assistant dean of research and sustainability, said each application must include a principal investigator from F&ES and at least one co-investigator from another Yale unit helping to build bridges and interdisciplinary work around the six focal areas.
Karen Seto, senior associate dean of research and the director of doctoral studies, said the grant will incentivize collaboration among humanists, social scientists and natural scientists. She said the goal is to seed new projects that would otherwise have not happened and to enable the development of new classes.
“There are lots of opportunities to think outside the box,” she said.
Seto offered environmental data science as an example. The field leverages data, digital technology, remote sensing, geographic information systems and computation to generate new knowledge about people and their environment in order to inform a sustainable future. She said the School of Art and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies could collaborate and use data to understand how people respond to environmental information.
On March 29, F&ES will hold a special information session designed to further inform the community about the Strategic Plan and to respond to questions concerning the Leitner Awards.
Leitner expressed hope that the grant will motivate creative collaboration among specialists to produce “fabulous results” and a “beautiful surprise.”
He is a fellow of Pierson College and a former member of the President’s Council on International Activities and the Yale Investment Office. He has also established a program in international and comparative political economy at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, endowed a professorship in international studies and supported several international summer internships.
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