The New SPIA Undergraduate Program Launches

11 08 2018

In one week we will welcome our first cohort of students into the new Smart and Sustainable Cities (SSC) and Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP) majors. Over the past two years, faculty in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) have worked to completely revise the Bachelors of Arts in Public and Urban Affairs (PUA) that is now the home of these two majors. The PUA degree will provide students with a solid foundation in U.S. government and politics, the legal foundations of planning, collaborative policy-making and planning processes, urban public issues, transdisciplinary problem solving, and public service leadership. It has been carefully designed to ensure student learning outcomes are introduced, reinforced, and assessed throughout the curriculum, which provides significant opportunities to integrate signature projects/problems within the curriculum.

The SSC major consists of two unique tracks in urban analytics and urban sustainability, an integrative course on data and the art of decision-making, and a capstone studio. The PUA degree core and SSC major creates one of the first undergraduate degrees in the nation to integrate governance and planning processes, urban analytics, and urban sustainability. See the video below for a little more information on the new SSC major.

The EPP major draws from the long and successful legacy of the Bachelors of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning, and will provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to understand complex environmental challenges and develop enduring solutions. EPP majors will be able to analyze how environmental policies are implemented at national and sub-national levels, and evaluate how environmental policies are managed across sectoral and jurisdictional boundaries.

Students at Virginia Tech will be able to major or minor in SSC and EPP, or complete a double major in SSC and EPP. Students will also be able to take advantage of other majors and minors at Virginia Tech to develop their own unique combination of knowledge and skills. To support their decision-making, we have enhanced our undergraduate advising capacity to ensure that each student receives the help they need when selecting majors, minors, courses, and potential career pathways.

For more information about the new SPIA undergraduate program, please visit our website or contact Chris LaPlante (540-231-3831; chrisl@vt.edu).





UAP 5784 – Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development

3 08 2018

Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development
UAP 5784 / CRN 90063
Meets: Mondays 9:00 to 11:45am
Location: Architecture Annex 111
Dr. Ralph Hall (rphall@vt.edu)

Overview

This graduate seminar will provide students with a transdisciplinary perspective on sustainable development. It is intended for students interested in planning, policy, economics, business, innovation, environmental studies, and law. The seminar will explore the many dimensions of sustainability and how national, multinational, and international political and legal mechanisms can be used to further sustainable development.

During the seminar we will consider the inter-relationship of global economic changes, inequality, employment, worker health and safety, and environment in the context of theories of development, trade, technical and organizational innovation, and employment. Mechanisms for resolving the apparent conflicts between these elements will be explored.

This seminar is intended to stimulate discussion and critical thinking on the key writings in sustainable development. Students will be evaluated on the basis of their mastery of the materials through (1) written assignments and (2) class participation. The seminar has one required text that will be supplemented by topical readings tailored to student interests.





Images from Study Abroad Course – Switzerland and Senegal

15 11 2017

Last week I completed a module for the Deans’ Semester on Global Challenges that began in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, then moved to Geneva, and ended in Senegal. During this module, students explored the global food challenge, paying specific attention to sustainable agricultural practices, the food-water-energy nexus, agricultural education, (mal)nutrition, and value/supply chains. After exploring these subjects, we engaged with professionals working on various aspects of the global food challenge and met with faculty and students studying agricultural systems and entrepreneurship at two universities in Senegal.

The images below provide a snapshot of the various activities we were able to undertake during this course. Click here for a Google-created video of our time at Lake Retb (the Pink Lake) in Senegal.

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Malawian Role Models

11 08 2017

My previous posts on the “Experience WASH in Malawi” study abroad course were written primarily for a U.S. audience. I write this post for students in Malawi.

Over the past month, I have had the privilege of getting to know nine graduate students from Mzuzu University. These graduates formed around one third of our study abroad course alongside students from the University of Denver and Virginia Tech.

During the course, all the students engaged in an extensive range of fieldwork that included household surveys, focus groups, technical assessments of water sources, and key informant interviews. All of these activities were made possible by the hard work and focus of the Mzuzu University students, who led the activities in one of two local dialects. For many, this was their first real fieldwork experience, and like the U.S. students, they were able to advance their research skills.

Outside of the fieldwork activities – i.e., traveling to and from the field and through reflexive and engaging conversations during the evenings or over the weekends – I began to hear the life stories of several of the Mzuzu University students. One of the most striking aspects of these stories was the adversity that each student had to overcome (and are still overcoming) to be a graduate student. Several of the students grew up in communities that were similar to the ones we visited during the fieldwork. These communities do not have access to electricity (unless they own a solar panel array – which is rare), have limited access to improved water, and in many cases are located long distances from local schools and basic health clinics. The students from these communities regularly commented on how our research was enabling the U.S. students to see and experience ‘real life’ in Malawi – meaning the everyday life for about 80% of the country’s population.

When you see and experience this life, the gravity of the challenges facing families and children can at times seem insurmountable. It is for this reason that I wanted to highlight the graduate students who we had the privilege of working with as role models for other students in Malawi.

When pressed on how they made it to graduate school, each Malawian student spoke of a role model who encouraged, inspired, or enabled them to stay in school and continue their education. One of the major challenges facing students is the cost of tuition, which is why many seek employment to cover these costs. The profiles below demonstrate an impressive array of professional experience, which many U.S. graduate students would be hard pressed to match.

While finding good enrollment data is difficult, I estimate that the graduate student population in Malawi is less than one tenth of one percent of the total population. Thus, the Mzuzu University Malawian role models represent the future of the nation and I look forward to seeing what they can collectively accomplish in the coming decade. I list them below in alphabetical order (and will add any missing profiles in the near future).

Elton Chimwemwe Chavura

Elton Chimwemwe Chavura: Elton studied Clinical Medicine and Anaesthesiology at Malawi College of Health Sciences, in Lilongwe and Blantyre, Malawi, graduating in 2003. He also earned a B.S. in Public Health at University of Livingstonia in 2015. At present, Elton is studying for an M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University. He has worked with the Malawi Government civil service since 2007 and was stationed at the Kasungu District Health Office. Elton is currently operating a private practice medical clinic within the town of Kasungu, Malawi. Upon graduation, he intends to integrate WASH-related healthcare and hygiene initiatives into his community outreach program as part of his overall strategy to advance sustainable community development.

Charles F. Chirwa

Charles F. Chirwa: Charles received a B.S. in Environmental Health from the University of Malawi in 2010 and a M.S. in Sanitation from Mzuzu University in 2017. His research at Mzuzu University focused on measuring pit latrine fecal sludge resistance using a dynamic cone penetrometer in low income areas in Mzuzu city, and his findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. I had the pleasure of working with Charles at Virginia Tech in 2016, when he advanced the analysis of the data he collected from 300 household surveys and pit latrine tests. For the last six years, Charles has served as the District WASH Project Officer (in the Chitipa District) for Marion Medical Mission. He recently joined a USAID project as a District WASH Officer in the USAID/ONSE Health, Development Innovations Group, ONSE Project. In the future he plans to obtain a PhD in a WASH-related field.

Gabriel Junior Kapanda, Jr

Gabriel Junior Kapanda, Jr.: Gabriel is a WASH Scientist with 3-years of experience working with non-profit organizations. He is currently a Water Program Manager for Orant Charities Africa – an international NGO working to serve rural communities in Malawi. He is passionate about community development and humanitarian work in rural and remote areas. Gabriel holds a B.S. in Water Resources Management and Development from Mzuzu University, and is now studying for his M.S. in Sanitation. His master’s research focuses on “determining the willingness to pay for, and initiatives for mitigating, indiscriminate household solid waste disposal in informal settlements in Mzuzu, Malawi.” Upon graduation he plans to create a ‘Water and Environmental Protection’ social business enterprise, comprising both non-profit and for-profit operations.

Chifundo Ruth Kayoka

Chifundo Ruth Kayoka: Chifundo received a diploma in Environmental Health from the Malawi College of Health Sciences in 2007 and a B.S. in Health Management from the University of Malawi, College of Medicine, in 2012. She works with the Ministry of Health as an Environmental Health Officer for the Lilongwe District Health Office. Her main responsibilities include planning, monitoring, and evaluating environmental/public health activities, including water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), supervising a team of Health Surveillance Assistants, maintaining the workflow schedule, and supporting a safe work environment by adhering to the Ministry of Health’s protocols and guidelines. Chifundo is currently studying for an M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University, where she is researching innovative ideas to improve WASH services for people with disabilities. In the next 5 to 10 years, Chifundo plans to help operationalize sustainable development strategies and interventions that promote the self-reliance of people living with disabilities across Malawi. She also aspires to work closely with communities to utilize appropriate locally available technology that will improve the lives of people with disabilities. In addition, she plans to contribute to attaining the right to WASH for all.

Madalitso Mmanga

Madalitso Mmanga: Madalitso received a B.S. in Environmental Health from the University of Malawi in 2007. Since then he has worked for the Ministry of Health in the Ntcheu District Hospital, where he is now the Environmental Health Officer and WASH Program Manager. Madalitso has also worked as a water resources and GIS technician for COMWASH (in 2004) and was an agriculture extension and development officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development (from 2003-2007). He is currently studying for a M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University. Upon graduation, Madalitso plans to develop a comprehensive healthcare waste management system that will be implemented in all healthcare establishments in Malawi.

Welton Eddie Mtonga

Welton Eddie Mtonga: Eddie received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Malawi in 1999 and an M.S. in Civil Engineering-Hydropower Development from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2008. Eddie has 18 years of professional experience, four of which were with an Engineering Consultancy firm, nine were with a water utility, and the remainder have been with the Department of Water Resources Management and Development in the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at Mzuzu University. Elton was the most senior participant in the WASH course and is currently working to complete his PhD in Sanitary Engineering, after which he hopes to work as a faculty member at a university in Malawi.

Mike Petani

Mike Petani: Mike received a Diploma in Clinical Medicine from the Malawi Adventist University in 2008 and a B.S. in Public Health from the University of Livingstonia, Malawi, in 2014. He is currently studying for a M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University and is working as an Environmental Health Officer for the Ministry of Health in the Kasungu District Hospital. To earn sufficient funds to support his family and pay for his school fees, Mike created the Come Again Medical Private Clinic and Medicine Pharmacy in his hometown. His long-term ambition is to obtain a PhD after which he plans to expand his clinic and pharmacy to include a maternity wing and X-ray department that serves local communities that are too far from government facilities.





UAP 5424: Smart Data for Smart Cities

9 08 2017

This fall, Julie Kanzler will be offering a module in the National Capital Region (NCR) focused on Smart Data for Smart Cities. A description of the module can be found below.

Title: UAP 5424: Smart Data for Smart Cities (module in NCR)

Instructor: Julie Kanzler

Meeting times: 5:00-8:00 PM on Friday, October 27th and 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Meeting place: 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA

Description

This module will probe behind the buzzwords to expose students to “smarter” uses of data for cities. Especially when the civic community is engaged in the process, there are many opportunities for using data analytics and visualization to make government work better. However, it’s important to temper this optimism with a clear picture of the pitfalls of data visualization inference. In the first half of the module, the instructor will draw from first-hand experience and Smart City cases to share examples that illustrate the need for this balanced perspective. The second half covers clear strategies for critical data interpretation and clear presentation. Students will also receive hands-on exposure to several popular online visualization tools. The material is presented in plain language and designed for students with a humanities background.

Julie Kanzler

Julie Kanzler manages Washington DC’s Data APIs and Systems program for the Chief Data Officer and is a member of DC’s Open Government Advisory Group and its working group on the Transparency and Understandability of Data. Her team of data professionals is responsible for developing data dashboards and administering the systems behind DC Open Data. Ms. Kanzler is a passionate public servant who believes in the effectiveness of civic engagement and the value of good data use. She has 20 years of experience as a data professional, most of it in an urban setting. She has worked to promote good data in the technology offices of the DC and Alexandria City governments and performed analysis on cities as diverse as Worcester, MA and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She has a B.A. in Geography from Clark University and an M.A., in Geography with a focus on urban geography, quantitative analysis and modeling.





End of Course Team Spirit!

29 07 2017

At the end of our 2017 study abroad course in Malawi, teams of students from Mzuzu University, the University of Denver, and Virginia Tech displayed their team spirit through African and Western song. Enjoy!





Malawi’s Natural Beauty

26 07 2017

In my last post I referred to Malawi’s raw natural beauty, so I thought I should post a few pictures from the community we visited today to provide a sense of what this means. Make sure you click on the panoramic images.

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