$3 Million IGERT Grant Will Fund Coasts and Communities Fellowships

Anna Pinkert | August 27, 2013
Map of Africa

IGERT Fellows will study coastal communities in the Horn of Africa.


Ask an environmental scientist, a policymaker, and the head of a nonprofit to name today’s biggest global environmental issues and they’ll probably give you a similar list: rapid urbanization, dwindling biodiversity, climate change and its effects. Ask them for solutions, and their answers would likely be steeped in their own academic disciplines and in the experiences of their home countries.

UMass Boston will play a vital role in developing these solutions, thanks to a five-year, $3.1 million Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant from the National Science Foundation. This funding will enable UMass Boston to implement an interdisciplinary, transnational approach to studying global environmental issues.

"What this award represents is another indication of the University of Massachusetts Boston expanding its reach globally," said Chancellor J. Keith Motley. "We are enabling our graduate students to become global environmental problem solvers. Our students who will be fellows in this program will be able to further and apply their innovative and sustainable solutions to environmental problems across disciplines and geographies."

The grant will fund the new IGERT Fellows program entitled “Coasts and Communities: Natural and Human Systems in Urbanizing Environments.” Fellows will study urban coastal management across disciplines—and across nations—with a special focus on the Horn of Africa.

“Environmental problems don’t acknowledge national or academic borders, so neither can our students,” said Robyn Hannigan, dean of the School for the Environment in the College of Science and Mathematics.

“The partnership with higher education institutions in the Horn of Africa will be critical to this program,” said Maria Ivanova, assistant professor of global governance and co-director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the John W. McCormack Graduate School for Policy and Global Studies. “Through this lens, students will acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the challenges faced by urbanizing coastal areas across the globe.”

Hannigan said that in rapidly developing coastal communities in Africa, environmental issues are more urgent than ever. “We can look at a place like Somalia, where overfishing forced small-scale fishermen to turn to piracy as a survival tactic. Our students can also study in Ethiopia, which is working to maintain its rich biodiversity by adopting policies that incorporate environmental management.”

Starting in fall 2014, eight IGERT fellows will be selected from students admitted to PhD programs in Environmental Science, Environmental Biology, Global Governance and Human Security, and Business Administration: Organizations and Social Change.

The Coasts and Communities program is the result of a joint effort between Hannigan and Ivanova, with assistance from David Levy, chair of the Department of Management and Marketing in the College of Management.

According to Levy, "Although the faculty in the different departments come from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, and effectively speak different languages, the conversations we've had in developing this program have helped people see the importance of studying these problems from multiple perspectives."

Over the course of two years, each fellow will be challenged to work outside of his or her discipline, taking a special set of courses taught by UMass Boston professors from various colleges and schools within the university. In addition, fellows will travel together to the Horn of Africa, where they will have the opportunity to study with professors from Addis Ababa University and the University of Nairobi.

IGERT fellows will be trained to address both "common problems" (ubiquitous problems occurring around the world, such as coastal erosion and urbanization pressures) and "problems of the commons" (threats to the global commons such as the atmosphere and the ocean). Through the new Environmental Innovation Clinic, fellows will work with communities to solve real-world environmental challenges.

Graduate students who wish to participate in some of the special classes and training offered by the IGERT program may apply to become associate fellows.

Students who wish to apply for the Coasts and Communities program should email Meagan Damore in the School for the Environment or call 617.287.7440. For more information on the Coasts and Communities program, email Dean Robyn Hannigan or Maria Ivanova.

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