Challenging Human Supremacy

31 10 2019

On Friday, November 8, I will be taking part in a symposium in honor of Eileen Crist, the author of Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization. The symposium is tilted Challenging Human Supremacy: Degrowth, post-growth, and the future of life on earth.

The symposium is open to the Virginia Tech community and the public and will be held from 1:30 to 5:00pm in the New Classroom Building, room 360.

In her new book, Eileen argues that the continued existence of life on earth requires us to rethink our relationship to the planet. She calls for humans to scale down and pull back by challenging human supremacy and economic growth frameworks. During the symposium, I will join a panel discussion with Virginia Tech faculty to explore these ideas from our various perspectives.

Panel Discussion: 1:30 – 3:00 PM

Reception: 3:00 – 3:30 PM

Keynote: 3:30 – 5:00 PM

  • Eileen Crist, “Exiting the Age of Man”




SuperStudio – Spring 2020

16 10 2019

This spring I will be taking part in the new Honors College SuperStudio, where five advanced undergraduate courses (described below) will collaborate to examine the potentials and challenges of the Green New Deal. The SuperStudio is designed engage students in transdisciplinary and collaborative work and provide a space where they can develop critical skills and knowledge.

The SuperStudio will consist of the following five courses:

  • UH 4504: Environmental Policy and Social Change (20945)
  • UH 4504: “Medicare for All!”: Data Analysis for Health Reform (20946)
  • UH 4504: “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good (20947)
  • UH 4504: The Future of Higher Education (20948)
  • UAP 4914: The Future of Employment (19367)

All five courses will meet at the same time and place to facilitate collaboration within and across the classes: Tuesday/Thursday, 2:00 – 3:15, in the Honors College’s new SuperStudio space in Squires Student Center (formerly the Old Dominion Ballroom). Students will have swipe-card access to the studio and dedicated project-development spaces.

In addition to enrolling in one of these five courses, students will also enroll in UH 4984: Honors SuperStudio (20958), a 1-credit corequisite that will meet on Wednesday, 11:15-12:05, to explore connections among their subjects and approaches, interrogate the Green New Deal, and pursue coordinated transdisciplinary responses to its potentials and challenges.

There are no prerequisite courses, but junior standing is required. All honors and honors-eligible students (3.6 GPA or better) are encouraged to participate in the SuperStudio, which we intend to make a vibrant community of practice.

UH 4504: Environmental Policy and Social Change – Dr. Velez

Public policy encompasses not just laws, but regulations, funding priorities, and decision-making in public institutions. In this course, we will study the National Environmental Policy Act to understand policy process; ethics, accountability, and diversity in policy making; and how sectoral differences affect policy decisions.

UH 4504: “Medicare for all!”: Data Analysis for Health Reform – Dr. Lewis

National and global health agencies mine patient data to determine trends in health care and make predictions about health crises. But does that data accurately reflect the health of all citizens? Moreover, does that data suggest how we might pay for universal healthcare as described in the Green New Deal?

UH 4504: “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good – Prof. Banks-Hunt

Drone technology has tremendous potential for social and environmental public good. In this course, we will engage in problem-finding and design thinking for real-world applications of drone technology.

UH 4504: The Future of Higher Education – Dr. Underwood and Prof. Williams

How will higher education change in a world of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and distance education? In light of policies such as the Green New Deal, how will access, affordability, and innovation change learning and higher education?

UAP 4914: Public & Urban Seminar – The Future of Employment – Dr. Hall

In this seminar, we will study the Green New Deal from a variety of perspectives – industrial, academic, governmental, civil, and socio-ecological – paying close attention to how the proposed initiatives might advance or undermine meaningful and well-paid employment in the future.





2019 EPP and PUA Graduation

20 08 2019

Congratulations to our 2019 Public and Urban Affairs (PUA) and Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP) graduates! The video below (taken through Google Glass) captures my view of the 2019 CAUS Commencement Ceremony. It also provides a behind the scenes look at the ceremony, which I hope the family and friends of our graduates will enjoy.





2019 International Development Studio

10 07 2019

To keep the tradition alive, below are a few photos from the final student presentations in the 2019 International Development Planning Studio. This year, the proposals focused on projects in Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Iran. The titles of the projects were as follows:

  • Reducing Food Insecurity in Yobe, Adawama, and Borno, Nigeria (Steven Black)
  • Ensuring Energy Accessibility in Rural Uganda (Barrett Cosgrove)
  • Increasing Rural and Semi-rural Electrification Rates In Lilongwe District, Malawi with Microgrids (Kia Lua)
  • Dar es Salaam Urban Planning Incubation Lab (Brandon McCord)
  • Decreasing Diarrheal Disease by Improving Water Safety (Kayla Septer)
  • Increasing Educational Attainment of Adolescent Girls in Central Tanzania through Menstrual Hygiene Management (Kelly Summers)
  • The Pollution Problem: A Collaborative Approach to Pollution in the Caspian (Neeki Zamanali)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’d like to thank Dr. Sophie Wenzel, Dr. Rebecca Powell Doherty, Prof. A. Ozzie Abaye, John J. Lipsey, II, Dr. Kerry Redican, Dr. Larry Vaughan Jim Foreman, Daniel Sumner, and Dr. Van Crowder for serving on the proposal review panel and/or for sharing their expertise with the students during the semester.





Student Presentations – May 7, 5-7:45pm

29 04 2019

From 5:00 to 7:45pm on May 7, 16 teams of students (in SPIA/GEOG 2244 Sustainable Urbanization) will be presenting their projects that envision the VT Innovation Campus. The presentations will be held in room 220 in the New Classroom Building and will consist of a poster, handout, and a live demonstration of how they have analyzed their ideas using UrbanFootprint.





Envisioning the VT Innovation Campus

26 04 2019

Last fall, Virginia Tech announced its plan to build a 1,000,000 square-foot Innovation Campus in Alexandria as part of a larger pitch to bring Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia. After hearing this news, I started thinking about how this development could be explored in my Spring semester Sustainable Urbanization course.

Around the same time, I was also introduced to UrbanFootprint – a big data urban analytics platform – as an interesting tool for teaching urban sustainability. Combining these two opportunities resulted in a proposal to use UrbanFootprint to study the new Amazon HQ2 and VT Innovation Campus. However, I faced to two challenges with this idea. The first was securing the financial resources to cover the UrbanFootprint license for up to 90 students. The second was finding an appropriate way for the class to engage with the VT Innovation Campus team to make sure that (1) students had access to relevant information and (2) their final products would be of value to the team.

After exploring a couple of funding opportunities, the first challenge was solved when the Urban Affairs and Planning Program (UAP) and the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) kindly agreed to share the cost of a one semester license. In addition, UrbanFootprint agreed to allow over 80 students in the class to use the platform in teams, rather than as individual users, which had not been done on this scale before.

The second challenge was addressed by working closely with Dr Kristie Caddick, the project manager for the VT Innovation Campus. As one might expect, building a 1,000,000 square-foot campus is a formidable challenge and managing such an endeavor requires a dedicated team that was forming at the time I was exploring this idea. Fortunately, the team saw the pedagogical value of challenging our undergraduates to learn more about the project and explore visions of how the campus could be developed.

As with all new ideas, it’s never as easy as you hope. While the funding for the UrbanFootprint license had been secured, it took a patient team of professionals at VT and UrbanFootprint to develop a workable license agreement that was signed the day before classes begun. This delay meant the teaching team were co-learning the platform with the students, which was a little uncomfortable at first, but resulted in a learning environment that was ‘real’ and collaborative.

By the time we reached Spring break, the teaching team had a sufficient handle on the platform that we moved from knowledge/skill-based exercises to a more complex task – to start exploring how the VT Innovation Campus could be built in Alexandria. This task was co-designed with Dr. Caddick, who introduced the students to the history of the VT Innovation Campus and more recent developments via a guest lecture.

Dr. Kristie Caddick talking with students about the VT Innovation Campus

In parallel with their work in UrbanFootprint, students have been searching for best practices of sustainable urbanization in the US and overseas that are now informing their ideas for the VT Innovation Campus. Last week, each of the 16 teams crafted a vision statement for the new campus. Several of the draft statements are shown in the slideshow below, along with a few pictures from several guest lecturers who have joined us this semester.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On May 7, from 5:00 – 7:00pm, in room 220 of the New Classroom Building at Virginia Tech, 16 teams of students will present their visions for how the VT Innovation Campus could be developed. The presentations will consist of a poster that outlines their vision and development strategies and a live demonstration of how they analyzed the potential impacts of their vision using UrbanFootprint.





Beloved Community Initiative Event, November 27

6 11 2018

The School of Public and International Affairs, in partnership with the Center for Humanities, and Virginia Union University, present The Beloved Community Initiative Event that will be coinciding with the Advancing the Human Condition Symposium on November 27.

The Beloved Community Initiative is a partnership between VT and Virginia Union University to explore and advance Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s conception of the Beloved Community in the 21st century. In 2017, the VT-VUU partnership launched the inaugural Beloved Community Initiative Essay Contest. The essay contest invited junior and senior high school students to choose one set of historical figures and prepare an exploration of those two (or three) persons, focusing on how the legacy of their life’s journey came together to advance the Beloved Community.

On November 27, 2018, The VT-VUU Beloved Community Initiative will celebrate the essay contest winners. The event will feature two panels on:
  1. the history of the Civil Rights movement through the lens of the winning essays; and
  2. understanding contemporary forms of structural inequality implications for creating systems of economic and social justice, paradigmatically captured in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for a “Beloved Community.”

The event will take place in Assembly Hall in Holtzman Alumni Center on November 27, from 1:30- 5pm. No registration is required and the event is open to the public.

The following panelists will be speaking during the event: