Who could have ever imagined on New Year’s Eve, as we rang in 2020, what the coming year was going to have in store for us? A colleague in the department expressed it well when he said, “This past year was the longest decade I ever experienced.”
The year so far has us confronting two national crises at the same time: the continued spread of COVID-19 and the racism that remains evident in our society. Although this is undoubtedly a difficult time, I cannot help but be optimistic for the future. While cases of police brutality observed this summer serve as poignant reminders of the racial injustices that remain in our nation, I have great hope when I see students of all colors bravely taking the lead in calling on us all to fight racism everywhere we see it. The pandemic has created unique challenges, but it has also revealed humankind’s capacity to pull together to fight global threats. This ability to work together will be essential as we fight other threats such as climate change, which is already transforming our habitats in alarming ways.
COVID-19 has presented many challenges for our department. We were forced to quickly shift all of our teaching and research operations to a remote format in March. However, with new protocols in place by summer we felt confident that we could begin to return to limited in-person operations while keeping everyone safe. In the fall semester, we have adopted a hybrid delivery model that mixes online learning with in-person interactions for our smallest classes. We also paid extra attention to ensuring classes engage and motivate students to enhance learning experiences irrespective of the class delivery modality.
I am proud of the tireless efforts of our staff and faculty that made it possible for us to continue our teaching and research missions in these unusual circumstances. So far, the semester has been off to a great start with all members of our community doing their part in ensuring we all remain safe by staying socially distanced, wearing masks, and cleaning surfaces and hands regularly.
We are also excited to announce that we are embarking this year on a robust three-year action plan that aims to reinforce existing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs while developing new ones that are more responsive to community member needs. To bring more perspectives and talents to assist in defining and implementing the plan, we have expanded our DEI Committee to include students, postdocs and alumni. The DEI action plan includes programs such as DEI skill building for all members of our community, processes to ensure greater diversity in applicants to open positions, and improved tools for the mentoring of graduate students. I am energized by our DEI Committee’s efforts to ensure equity in the department, and I look forward to witnessing the positive impacts of this plan.
Finally, in this second year of our new Strategic Vision, we have made great progress on its implementation. This online newsletter has been designed to highlight one of our five strategic directions: shaping resource flows. As we battle climate change and a rapidly urbanizing planet, it is increasingly essential that we shape how resources like carbon and water flow through our society. This newsletter highlights our recent achievements in this strategic direction, including the launch of the Center for Low Carbon Built Environment whose mission is cut the built environment’s carbon footprint in half by 2030. We also highlight other work ranging from nutrient recovery from wastewater to new geothermal energy systems that drive a virtuous cycle of clean power generation and carbon sequestration.
I hope this newsletter gives you the same level of enthusiasm for the future as it gives me – I can assure you that the creative energy of CEE is hard at work aiming to make the world a better place!
Jerome P. Lynch, PhD
Professor and Donald Malloure Department Chair
This article is included in the Fall 2020 issue of the CEE Review magazine. Visit the issue home page to see other articles.