Did You Know?: Center for the Environment

September 11, 2014  

Leigh Raymond

Leigh Raymond, director of the Center for the Environment. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Since 2006, the Center for the Environment in Discovery Park has galvanized multidisciplinary, problem-driven research at Purdue that focuses on finding solutions to critical environmental challenges.

From projects examining emerging environmental contaminants -- and the threats they pose to health -- to comprehensive efforts to learn how to make communities more resilient in the face of natural disasters, the research that the Center for the Environment champions is timely and on the cutting edge, says Leigh Raymond, the center's director.

"Today's most pressing environmental concerns and the problems they present to communities tend to be very complex, and studying them often involves many disciplines," Raymond says.

"At the Center for the Environment, we connect Purdue's researchers interested in tackling these issues with others on campus who have the expertise they seek. In that way, we help researchers connect the dots to bring these ambitious projects to fruition."

The Center for the Environment, which has an executive committee made up of 16 Purdue faculty members, has worked with dozens of researchers on campus, Raymond says.

In addition to the efforts mentioned above, ongoing and planned research projects include an examination of how indigenous Alaskan communities are coping with environmental change, and an examination of potential threats to soil and water quality in the Midwest.

The multidisciplinary nature of projects connected to the center is particularly apparent in projects examining community resilience to natural disasters, Raymond says. Those projects involve Purdue researchers from Anthropology, Civil Engineering, Communication, Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Political Science and Purdue Extension.

In addition to spearheading and facilitating multidisciplinary research projects, the center has helped organize a faculty cluster hire spread across seven academic departments as part of Purdue's Building Sustainable Communities initiative. So far, the center has hired people for four of seven open faculty positions, Raymond says.

The center also helps connect interested undergraduate students with faculty members who are conducting research about environmental issues, Raymond says. For example, one student is assisting with a project examining how social media can help organizations quickly document damage from natural disasters. Another is involved in a project examining state-by-state laws related to environmental justice.

This spring, the center will kick off a program called Conversations with Environmental Leaders, Raymond says. The program will bring professionals from a variety of backgrounds to campus so students can talk with them and get a feel for the details and diversity of environmental work happening now.

"Long term, my goal for the center is to help establish new programs on campus that will result in promising solutions to environmental challenges," Raymond says.

"The solutions we pursue are holistic, meaning that they don't focus exclusively on technical or scientific fixes, or on social, political or economic considerations in isolation. We aim to find comprehensive solutions to these grand challenges."

 Writer: Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu

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