When Katherine Smith, PhD, realized the potential of her human infectious disease research to define the relationship between global epidemics and environmental change, she looked beyond her Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for help parsing the data, forming hypotheses, and finding answers. The interdisciplinary team that she gathered, including faculty and staff from the Department of Geological Sciences and the School of Public Health, embodies the mission of Brown’s new Institute for the Study of Environment and Society (ISES).
Integrative scholarship and understanding environmental change are key pieces of the University’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction. The institute, which draws faculty from fields as diverse as pathology, economics, and Africana studies, is a direct result of the plan, according to ISES Director Amanda Lynch, PhD, professor of geological sciences, who says that as she led the strategic planning effort to grow the environmental research landscape, it became “obvious” that Brown should merge research with undergraduate teaching into one academic unit. “It’s better for students to align their classes with research, and professors benefit from having more undergraduates to collaborate with,” she says.
Smith’s project was an easy choice for the institute’s first round of small project grants. “It particularly helped us to start thinking about ways we can integrate public health, biomedical research, and more broadly based scholarly research in the University,” Lynch says. The grants, funded this year by a one-time donation, will become part of the ISES operating budget, which also will cover expanded graduate and postdoctoral programs and summer research opportunities for undergrads from underrepresented groups.
The institute also houses the Brown University Herbarium and the Environmental and Remote Technologies Lab, which supports research using geographic information systems and remote sensing. “Brown stands out for its interdisciplinary work,” says Dov Sax, PhD, an EE B associate professor and ISES deputy director of education. “It’s part of a long tradition. … The barriers are very low here.”