From Ping Pong to Community Wealth and Collaboration

Over the past year, performance artist Steven T. Licardi and I have been exploring ways to advance new economic thinking – related to Community Wealth Building – through a SciArts project. This project was funded by a grant from the Center for Communicating Science at Virginia Tech.

If you would like to know how ping ping and community wealth building are connected, please join us at 12pm on Thursday, March 17, at the new Creativity and Innovation District build at Virginia Tech.

New F.I.R.E. Starters Program Launches

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the new F.I.R.E. (Forging Interest in Research and Engagement) Starters undergraduate research program at Virginia Tech that aims to increase access to, and training for, research opportunities for underrepresented minority students.

Students will participate in cohort learning that introduces them to transdisciplinary research and prepares them to pursue future research opportunities. Each student may receive up to $4,000 in funding

Students in all disciplines – especially in the humanities and social sciences – are encouraged to think broadly about how their interests intersect with the theme of Environment and Society and how they could advance a research project that builds on their interests.

In addition to receiving a stipend, successful applicants will be given an opportunity to apply for up to $4,000 of additional funding to support a proposed research project.

If you are a faculty member/researcher/advisor at Virginia Tech, please encourage your eligible students to apply. Details are available here.

Seminar Recording – Theory for Action

The recording of Dr. Tiziano Distefano (University of Pisa, Italy) seminar entitled “Theory for Action: Applying System Dynamics to Address Climate Change and Social Inequality,” can be accessed below. If you would like to read more about his research I recommend looking at this paper on Feasible alternatives to green growth and edited book on Water Resources and Economic Processes.

If you are an undergraduate (rising senior) or graduate student and would like to apply for our joint study abroad program, please submit an application by February 28, 2022.

Seminar – Theory for Action (Feb 4, 12pm)

On Friday, February 4, from 12 – 1pm, Dr. Tiziano Distefano (University of Pisa, Italy) will talk about his research on applying system dynamics to address climate change and social inequality.

Please register here to obtain the Zoom link for the seminar. 

During his presentation, Dr. Distefano will also talk about a unique summer 2022 VT-MIT-UNIPI Study Abroad program (in Pisa, Italy) that will explore transitions towards sustainability and enable students to attend the 14th Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE) and hike and learn in the Apuan Alps.

USAID LASER PULSE Article on Kenya Project

USAID LASER PULSE just released the following article on our research project in Kenya. The article includes a short video showing the AgUnity blockchain app being used by project participants along the African Indigenous Vegetable (AIV) supply chain.

Science on Tap – Community Wealth Building

For many, our current economic models no longer ensure our basic human needs are met. However, other worlds are possible, but we can’t create those worlds without you. Please join performance artist Steven T. Licardi and I on Wednesday, January 26, from 5:30 – 7:00pm at the Rising Silo, for an interactive performance-lecture that imagines, explores, and develops a vision of Community Wealth-Building in our community.

New Paper on Designing Transdisciplinarity

In this new article published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education, we discuss institutional drivers and barriers to collaborative transdisciplinary teaching as experienced through the Virginia Tech’s Honors College SuperStudio.


Employers increasingly desire new graduates to work across boundaries, in teams, and with developed soft skills, especially in public affairs. Likewise, students increasingly seek academic experiences for learning, practicing, and honing transferable, competency-based skills. This suggests instructors should explore alternative pedagogy engaging problem definition and transdisciplinary teamwork. We describe institutional drivers and barriers to collaborative transdisciplinarity in undergraduate teaching and the structure and processes involved in developing a co-taught studio-based capstone involving public affairs students and varied other unrelated majors. We describe the structure through which the “SuperStudio” (1) combines topic concentrations with a shared policy context allowing students to apply disciplinary knowledge to define transdisciplinary problems and (2) fosters collaborative teaching and strategic exploration of overarching issues like problem framing, equity, and effective communication. We then offer lessons learned regarding the drivers and barriers to such efforts, and advice from institutional decision-makers on designing such courses at other institutions.

Suggested citation: Anne-Lise Velez, Hall, R.P., and Lewis, S.N. (2021) Designing transdisciplinarity: Exploring institutional drivers and barriers to collaborative transdisciplinary teaching. Journal of Public Affairs Education, DOI: 10.1080/15236803.2021.1992196.

Behind the Scenes at the AgChain Hackathon

The video below presents a behind-the-scenes view of the AgChain Hackathon held at Egerton University, Kenya, from November 15 to 17. It was recorded by Nurvitria Kristofikova, a Program Director at AgUnity and core team member of our project entitled “Exploring Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya.”

Webinar – Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya

December 8, 2021
2-3 pm

Jessica Agnew, PhD, MSc, MPH 
Assistant Director of Research, Operations, & Program Management 
Center for International Research, Education and Development 

Ralph P. Hall, PhD, S.M., S.M., MEng
Undergraduate Programs Director and Associate Professor, Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP)
Associate Director, School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA)
Virginia Tech

Visit this link to register

Blockchain technology is heralded for its ability to improve traceability, trust, and trust in agri-food value chains. For the optimist and the skeptic of blockchain, we explore the complexities of using this emerging technology to strengthen agri-food value chains to create social and nutritional impacts. This 1-hour talk will explore results and lessons from the field in Western Kenya as to how blockchain might be used as a tool to improve food and nutrition security, women’s leadership, and youth engagement within the value chains for African indigenous vegetables (AIVs).