University launches environmental institute
Published: Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 02:10
The final day of sustainability events concluded this Friday on The Green with the launch of the Delaware Environmental Institute, a new partner of the university assisting in sustainability research.
An estimated 150 people attended Mitchell Hall from 9:30 a.m. until 12 p.m. for the DENIN debut, which featured remarks by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, university President Patrick Harker, Provost Tom Apple and DENIN Director Donald Sparks.
The event's two keynote speakers on environmental issues were Francois Morel, a professor at Princeton University, and William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
In Spark's opening remarks for the ceremony, he told the audience that Delaware faces very significant environmental challenges because of decades of industrial production and increasing residential and commercial development.
"The environmental issues facing the state are too complex to solve using traditional means," Sparks said. "They demand that we come up with innovative applications of science, engineering and public policy and that we collaborate with outstanding researchers who are conducting cutting-edge and highly relevant environmental research."
The university has been talking about forming an environmental institute for approximately two years, he said. The institute will help the university receive large grants from federal agencies for solar and recycling projects.
One of DENIN's goals is to forge partnerships among government agencies, nonprofit industries, policymakers and the public to address environmental challenges. Sparks said DENIN will coordinate and sponsor some of the university-based interdisciplinary initiatives, such as academic programs and research projects.
Harker announced on The Green that DENIN will move into the new university Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering building to be built on the corner of Lovett Avenue and Academy Street by 2013. The building will have DENIN administrative offices, laboratories, offices for environmental science and engineering faculty, as well as for their students.
Harker said the 2,000-square-foot building will also house an energy institute.
"This space is meant to blur the lines between disciplines and tear down the walls — literally and metaphorically — between instruction and research, so that the research being conducted in one lab provides the content for the curriculum being taught literally next door," Harker said.
Harker said he has promised to support DENIN by supplementing university faculty.
"We've made a commitment to hire faculty to strengthen UD's environmental enterprise," he said.
Markell took the stage and spoke about how students today are very environmentally conscious.
"They get it — not just in their head, as an intellectual issue — but they get it in their gut," Markell said. "They recognized that their future is very much tied up in what kind of Earth we all leave them."
Collin O'Mara, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control secretary, also spoke about the university's younger generation.
"The kids get it." O'Mara said. "We have to take the view that the environment is not something that we inherit from our parents but something that we borrow from our children."
He then invited each child from the elementary class, individually, to come on stage and receive an award for their sustainability efforts.
After the guest lectures, the launch continued inside a large tent, on The Green, where Delaware students from grades K-12 showcased posters and projects about the environment. Sparks said the university invited other schools to participate in order to engage the whole community, not just the university.
"We wanted to show there's great interest from everybody," he said. "We really wanted to engage the whole community, not just the faculty. We wanted to bring in the state as a whole."
Senior Evan Wilbert said he thinks DENIN is a good economic decision for the university.
"It will bring a decent amount of money to the university, especially as far as research programs go," he said. "So, hopefully, it'll keep us on the leading edge of green technologies."
Graduate student, Erin McVey, said she thinks DENIN will promote sustainability education on campus.
"Education is a big thing right now," she said. "I feel like people need to learn about sustainability and why it's important so I think the launching of the institute is great." Sparks said trying to encourage an environmental mindset in people is sometimes difficult.
"I think there's always an issue with changing people's habits in this country and probably throughout the world, but you really have to work together as a whole."
Wilbert said The Green was a good place to hold the event because it encouraged people walking by to think about sustainability
"I definitely think it was a good program," he said. "I think it brought environmental issues to the forefront of students' minds as they passed by."
McVey said she would like to see the university continue sustainability education.
"When you have students that care and are involved and want something to happen or change, I think that's probably the best thing a university can do," McVey said.