MARRIOTT LIBRARY’S NEW DANCE

Originally posted in@theU on June 4

By Liz Ivkovich, Sustainability Office

The Marriott Library operates like a complicated piece of choreography.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning goes on and off, and it lets air into and out of the building in an overlapping sequence of operations. This dance is directed by the building automation system — a computer system that monitors the building’s electrical and mechanical equipment and tells each part what to do.

Thanks to the recently completed upgrade to the building automation system, the library is saving $270,000 a year.

The multi-year project began as an effort to better protect collections, with the added benefit of reducing the library’s energy use by 28 percent annually.

The library’s building automation system has to meet many needs at once and prevent various functions from stepping on each other’s toes. The system ensures a comfortable temperature while people are in the library and provides adequate ventilation to protect indoor air quality. It controls the humidity level within a safe range for valuable books and equipment. Additionally, it pressurizes the space so that no cold air leaks into the building. Given this operational complexity, it is not unusual for these systems perform inefficiently. Plus, building automation systems are more robust with today’s technology than when the library was renovated 10 years ago.

The library upgrades addressed both the issue of outdated technology and provided an opportunity for more thoughtfully designed sequences of operation. Much of the work went into rearranging the choreography — changing the order of instructions for the automation system to run more efficiently. By using many of the system’s existing components, Facilities Management was able to lower the price tag of the upgrade.

“If we replaced the entire mechanical system, we’d have had an insanely high cost,” said Chris Benson, Sustainability & Energy program manager. “We carefully chose the sensors, the controllers, and labor to pull wires and really focused on adjusting the sequences of operation. It makes a huge difference to make sure we get the right sequences the building really requires. That’s where we get the best return on investment.”

The upgrades began in 2014 on the first floor, expanded to include special collections on the fourth floor, and all other floors by the project’s conclusion.

In addition to energy reduction, the upgrades will also aid in preservation. Special Collections and its curators and archivists are tasked with safeguarding some of the most valuable assets of the State of Utah. Items held by Special Collections include more than 80,000 rare books, maps and ephemera as well as moving image and sound archives and manuscript collections.

“Whether the collections we have curated are 2,000 years old or printed yesterday, we have a responsibility to ensure they are protected for the university and world communities for generations and mitigating water risks and stabilizing climate control helps us do that,” said Ian Godfrey, director of library facilities.

Not only have the library’s book and paper residents benefited from the upgrades, its human occupants are enjoying more control over their environment. The upgrades enable employees to regularly adjust their thermostats for more comfortable temperatures during chilly winter and hot summer days.

The upgrades wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated work of staff in University Planning, Design & Construction, Marriott Library, Facilities Management, as well as vendors Spectrum Engineers, Wasatch Controls and ETC Group.

With more than 200 campus structures with automation building systems similar to the one in the Marriott Library, the U has many more opportunities to implement these kinds of upgrades. On with the dance…of energy efficiency.

Sweating the Small Stuff

By Karren Fultz, administrative officer, Sustainability Office. Originally posted on May 29, 2018.

With over 27,000 employees at the university, small changes to our daily office habits can add up to a large collective impact. These can be seen in continual cost-savings and environmental benefits. The Sustainability Office offers ongoing support and customized training to help implement new practices. So, reimagine your office routine through Green Office Certification.

Green Office Certification is a tool that guides staff and faculty as they adopt sustainable choices in the workplace. Using the Green Office Checklist, departments and colleges provide opportunities for everyone to participate in sustainability activities related to purchasing, energy use, transportation and more. After completing the checklist, schedule an appointment with a green-office specialist to verify the level of certification.

“Green Office Certification has helped our office be more aware of our collective carbon footprint,” said Jennifer Browning, office assistant, College of Architecture + Planning. “Maintaining our gold standard has become a group effort with everyone involved. Because of this program, we are always trying to think of new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle here in our office. We are so grateful to the Sustainability Office for introducing us to this campus program.”

Participating departments are recognized in three tiers of achievement: bronze, silver and gold.

Five departments have achieved gold, three have silver and three have bronze. Additionally, 22 departments are working on their certification.

  • Gold: Bennion Center, College of Architecture + Planning Dean’s Office, Office of Sponsored Projects, Second Language Teaching & Research Center, Sustainability Office
  • Silver: City & Metropolitan Planning, Facilities Management Utility Systems & Services, Utah Museum of Fine Arts
  • Bronze: College of Humanities Dean’s Office, Eccles Health Sciences Library, Parks, Recreation & Tourism

The first office at the U to participate in Green Office Certification was the Bennion Center.

“Green Office Certification is about planning ahead and knowing what you really do or do not need,” said Debbie Hair, administrative assistant with the Bennion Center. “It is about remembering to use on/off switches, printing on both sides of paper, and other simple actions that give back to Earth.”

After earning bronze, the Bennion Center didn’t stop there, advancing to gold certification in February 2015. With this achievement, they joined the dean’s office in the College of Architecture + Planning, which was the first campus office to earn gold.

The Sustainability Office also uses Green Office Certification to collect data for the Association for Advancement in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Through this self-reporting system, universities and colleges measure their overall sustainability performance. The U is currently designated STARS Silver and working to achieve STARS Gold by 2020.

Ready to take action? Join the faculty and staff of 33 departments and colleges by registering your department today. Contact Karren Fultz, karren.fultz@utah.edu for more information.

REVOLVING LOAN PAYS LEED GOLD DIVIDENDS

Originally posted in @theU on May 14, 2018

By: Liz Ivkovich, Global Change & Sustainability Center

The building that is home to the College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a LEED Gold certification after the building’s latest upgrade – the installation of a solar panel array on the roof. These upgrades were made possible through the support of the university’s Revolving Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans to help reduce carbon emissions on campus.

The architect for the $24-million renovation, Derrick Larm, said the new 34.2-kilowatt solar panel system, which was installed earlier this year and is comprised of four separate panels on the roof, provides an additional 5 percent energy-cost savings per year for the building. The Rio Tinto Kennecott building now is one of seven U buildings on campus with the Gold certification.

The LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification rating by the U.S. Green Building Council for highly efficient, cost-effective green buildings. The Rio Tinto building at 1495 E. 100 South originally achieved a Silver rating when the renovation of the 65-year-old structure was completed in 2015. The Revolving Loan Fund was able to provide the up-front costs for the rooftop solar energy project, which enabled the project to achieve enough credits to earn LEED Gold Certification.

What began as a 54,000-square-foot building built in the 1950s for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.’s research offices has now become a 76,000-square-foot U lab space with the latest in energy-saving technology and safety features.

The building now has energy-efficient elevators, a chilled beam system for air conditioning and a heating system that use much less energy, new walls and braces for earthquake stabilization, a horizontal fire shutter above the atrium designed to stop the spread of a fire, and a new pedestrian walkway called “Job’s Crossing” that connects the building to the rest of campus for safer pedestrian traffic.

“It’s a complete renovation, and it’s amazing that we took something that had no insulation and get it to a place where it is performing 40 percent better than a code-compliant building,” Larm said. “The swing in energy efficiency is just enormous.”

All told, these energy upgrades will save the building 32 percent in annual energy costs, he added. The Revolving Loan Fund helped to off-set the cost of making these changes to the building.

The Revolving Loan Fund operates by fronting the extra incremental costs often associated with energy efficiency or renewable energy. Often the initial costs of these on-campus projects—such as solar panels and high efficiency water heaters—can be a barrier for the University, even if the project will save money over its lifetime. After the project is complete, the loan is paid back to the fund through savings accrued in reduced energy costs to the university. In addition, after the loan is paid back (typically 8-15 years), the university benefits from those savings for the remaining life of the equipment (usually 25 years).

“Not only does the university save money and reduce carbon emissions through the fund, but the returns on investment are plowed right back into other projects for decades to come,” said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer. “The fund is also one of only a few student fee-based revolving loan funds in the country. It is unique on campus in that student fees and donations provide annual funding like an endowment, while returns from previous project investments grow the available pool exponentially. It is the fund that literally keeps on giving.”

AFTER THE RAIN

By: Liz Ivkovich, Global Change & Sustainability Center. 

Last week, 30 officials from city, county, and state agencies boarded a university shuttle on a tour of campus stormwater infrastructure. For participants, these projects offer a vision for what is possible when it comes to protecting the Jordan River watershed we all share.

Central to the tour was the announcement of $300,000 in new funding awarded to the Center for Ecological Planning & Design by the Utah Division of Water Quality. This grant will be matched with support from University Real Estate Administration to create the new Landscape Lab at the Williams Building.

PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

30 officials from the city, county, and state agencies attended a tour at the University of Utah campus.

The Landscape Lab’s goal is to demonstrate sound stormwater management practices. It will transform a one-acre area of water-intensive turfgrass south of the Williams Building into a picturesque, walkable space featuring local plants that reduce irrigation demand. The Williams Building is adjacent to Red Butte Creek, a tributary of the Jordan River.

All stormwater in Salt Lake City ultimately ends up in the Jordan River. Keeping stormwater on-site will not only protect the Jordan River from pollutants and flooding, it will significantly reduce irrigation costs for the Williams Building.

Sarah Hinners, director of the Center for Ecological Planning & Design, intends for the lab to test how well different types of stormwater management features work in our Northern Utah climate.

“Part of what makes this project unique is the multidisciplinary team of soil, plant, and planning experts and engineers involved in it,” said Hinners. “We are able to engage faculty expertise to monitor and share information about best practices with the rest of the Wasatch front.”  Dr. Hinner’s team of interested stakeholders also includes University Facilities and Operations staff, who oversee the design, construction, maintenance, environmental permitting and compliance of all stormwater on campus.

The lab will re-direct the water runoff from the Williams Building to its beautiful living plant communities. This allows the plant roots and microbial communities to take up pollutants and filter water through the soil to recharge the groundwater.

The grant received from the Utah Division of Water Quality is being matched with funds from University Real Estate Administration.

“Research Park and Real Estate Administration are excited to be involved in the new Landscape Lab at the Williams Building,” said Jonathan Bates, executive director of Real Estate Administration. “This opportunity to embrace research resulting in the direct implementation of sustainable water use techniques in a business park setting go to the core of the mission of Research Park. As the Park celebrates its 50th birthday we look forward to the opportunity to update our design standards to include concepts that come out of this exciting research initiative. Additionally, we look forward to future opportunities to blend research initiatives with commercial real estate development in order to show the financial, environmental and community benefits of sustainable design.”

In addition to the site of the Landscape Lab, the group also toured several existing low-impact development (LID) stormwater features on campus, including planned retrofits on the HPER mall, some updated permeable pavement at the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the tiered bioswales and rain gardens near USTAR.

The all-day, valley-wide tour was initiated by the Jordan River Commission, an intergovernmental agency tasked with stewarding the Jordan River watershed and implementing the vision for the Jordan River Parkway.

According to Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, stormwater projects such as the Landscape Lab are increasingly important in northern Utah.

“The past century and a half of industrialization and urbanization in Salt Lake and Utah valleys have not always been kind to the Jordan River, ” said Simonsen. “We are confident that what we have learned about our ecosystem through science and application in more recent years will allow us to actually improve the Jordan River watershed as the region continues to grow. It will take a concerted effort, and we are excited to have incredible partners like the University of Utah to demonstrate innovative ways of retrofitting our landscapes and green infrastructure to improve water quality and habitat.”

The lab will test multiple designs for stormwater retention and filtration infrastructure. Sharing this research will minimize trial and error for city, county, and corporate agencies seeking to use these features in their communities.

The lab is the first phase of extensive redevelopment project for Red Butte Creek. Hinners expects to break ground on the lab in Fall 2018. She hopes that the project’s first phase will be completed by Summer 2019.

DESIGN FOR THE DISAPPEARING DARK SKY

Originally posted in @theU on April 23, 2018. 

By Jana Cunningham, University of Utah Communications

The University of Utah multidisciplinary design students teamed up with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies to create an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah that showcases Utah’s unique exposure to the night sky. The exhibit illustrates issues such as light pollution and how artificial light has impacted the natural beauty and habitats of Utah. The exhibit opened on Thursday, April 19, in the Sky Gallery of the Natural History Museum, fifth floor.

“This project was such a rewarding experience to not only learn more about the exhibit design process, but to have the opportunity to develop something that will impact perspectives and promote change in our community,” said Erica Fasoli, U design student.

The design students began the experience with their annual camping trip to Escalante, Utah, which provides one of the closest and most vibrant experiences with a natural dark sky. This observation was many of the students’ first understanding and experience of a dark sky.

Students worked directly with Tim Lee, senior exhibit designer at the Natural History Museum, to learn about exhibit design and the intensive process that goes into creating a unique and educational exhibit.

“Our cohort split into teams based on our individual interests such as design research, experience design and fabrication” said Andrew Morgan, U design student. “Focusing on what we wanted to get out of the project allowed us to stay motivated in the exhibit development.”

Through a collaborative effort, the entire junior design studio prototyped various design solutions to highlight the impact of artificial light. The student team worked directly with the museum staff to refine and solidify practical implementations for the installation space.

Design faculty, Elpitha Tsoutsounakis and Bogart McAvoy, guided the fabrication and implementation stages of the process. After finalizing the design, students worked to create an experience that was cohesive with the layout and style of the rest of the exhibits in the museum.

“We are very fortunate to have an ongoing collaboration with an institution like the Natural History Museum of Utah,” said Tsoutsounakis. “The students are able to learn from an amazing team of talented professionals outside of the classroom and well before graduation. It also gives our students the opportunity to engage with exciting community partners like the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies.”

The exhibit highlights artificial light pollution and the impact that it has on the human connection with the night sky. Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with the exhibit and learn more about the way artificial light drowns out natural light from the stars.

“Visitors will leave the exhibit feeling inspired by the beauty of the night sky and they will feel prompted to make real life changes to help protect it,” said Kirtly Maxfield, U design student.

The Science of Science Communication

By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office.

Communication is a vital part of science. Articulating one’s research to broad audiences can have a significant impact on how that research is discovered and shared. While scientists and communicators have often relied on intuitive rules to guide communication, science communication (as a field in itself), is supported by empirical insights that inform how to best communicate about science issues.

Sara K Yeo, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, will describe the science of science communication at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, April 10, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Sara K Yeo. Used with permission.

Yeo’s research explores how audiences seek and process information about science from the media. Her research methods include surveys, experiments embedded in surveys (either online or over the phone), and content analysis.

“If you think about where we get science from it is very rarely now in traditional news or television,” said Yeo. “Most people go online to find information about science.”

When you are reading science information online, there are many factors that influence how you understand that information. The social component of online sources (like buttons and share options) are often embedded in the source. According to Yeo, the number of likes and shares can influence how we think about the information we are reading. But it isn’t just the social components that have an influence. The language used within the message, and its context, can also influence how the information is received.

Yeo’s current project explored tweets regarding climate change and global warming, uncovering the context in which audiences used the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. She also worked alongside atmospheric scientists to determine if temperature variations across the United States were related to Twitter reactions.

“What we saw was the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ used in different contexts,” said Yeo. “Global warming was used in context to the weather and was correlated with temperature changes. Whereas, climate change tends to be used in more environmental and political type discourses.”

Mapping the discourse surrounding scientific issues on social media is an important part of science communication research. Collecting this data can inform how communication is being translated to different audiences and inform science communication scholars and practitioners.

To hear more about the empirical research being done on science communication and how the direction the field is moving, attend Yeo’s GCSC lecture, “The Science of Science Communication” on Tuesday, April 10 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

UNCOVERING SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted April 2, 2018 in @theU.

By Bianca Greeff, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office.

Sustainability is much more than just environment.

In 2011, the University of Utah began incorporating sustainability more broadly into its curriculum. Today, faculty across campus are enhancing education by implementing the big ideas of sustainability—equity, economy, and environment into their courses and departments.

Over 200 courses with a new sustainability attribute and 10 departments with a sustainability learning outcome illuminate the wide reach of sustainability initiatives. Students can locate courses with the new SUSC/SUSL sustainability attribute in the course catalog when signing up for classes.

“We don’t want to limit this large, integrated, conceptual issue of sustainability to a single discipline, set of behaviors, or required course,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of sustainability education and associate professor in Environmental & Sustainability Studies. “We want to illuminate how and where faculty members are integrating studies of ecological limits with understandings of equity and economic systems. These learning outcomes and course attributes demonstrate the diverse approaches to sustainability education at the U.”

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are formal statements of the knowledge and skills a student is expected to master by the time they finish their program of study. Sustainability learning outcomes enable departments to explain their discipline’s unique contributions to the University’s larger commitment to sustainability education.

10 departments have already articulated how their discipline contributes to sustainability education, and more are working on the process.

Course attributes

Even if a department doesn’t yet have a sustainability learning outcome, individual courses from that program can earn a sustainability attribute. There are two tiers in the course attributes:

  • Limited (SUSL) – awarded to courses that incorporate a unit or module on sustainability or a sustainability challenge.
  • Complete (SUSC) – awarded to courses whose content identifies and describes the relationship between the course topic, equity, economy, and environmental dimensions.

“A course attribute doesn’t mean the course has to cover every bit of sustainability,” explained Cachelin. “They might be studying one or two of the three big ideas, or it might be the entire course is about something else but they are using a case study that is sustainability-related. These courses are still incredibly valuable for student understanding.”

Faculty wishing to obtain the attribute may submit their course for review by the Sustainability Education Advisory Committee.

Other resources

For faculty wanting to get involved in sustainability education, the Wasatch Experience Faculty Workshop provides an opportunity for interdisciplinary faculty cohorts to work together to design impactful educational programming.

For students eager to apply their learning from these courses with on-campus projects, the Sustainability Scholars program offers a year-long cohort to explore these ideas. This learning community is open to undergraduate students from across campus, and fulfills the Social and Behavioral Sciences requirement for graduation, with a new cohort beginning in Fall 2018.

From learning cohorts to course attributes to learning outcomes, the U’s recent efforts uncover the breadth of sustainability, while supporting those who wish to integrate it into their teaching and learning.

BIKING TO THE U: NO SWEAT

Originally posted in @theU on March 26, 2017 by Liz Ivkovich, communications and relationship manager, University of Utah Sustainability Office.

Want to ride to campus like it’s downhill both ways? 

Check out U Bike Electric, an electric bicycle (e-bike) purchase program intended to help more people improve air quality by cutting personal transportation emissions. The program offers U community members the opportunity to purchase a variety of makes and models of e-bikes at discounted prices starting now through May 26, 2018.

With almost fifty percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, U Bike Electric is a creative solution to improve air quality and community health. With no emissions, e-bikes offer the U community an easy way to not only get around the U’s hilly terrain, but all across the Wasatch front with the backup power of an electric bike.

“If you have not been on an e-bike, it is time to try one!” said Amy Wildermuth, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “They are great fun and, even better, they will get you where you need to go quickly. We invite everyone to join in to get some exercise and have fun while we clean up Utah’s air.”

To offer the program, the University of Utah Sustainability Office is partnering with local clean energy advocacy group Utah Clean Energy. The U and Utah Clean Energy have pioneered multiple successful community purchasing programs including U Community Solar and U Drive Electric, two nationally recognized programs that spurred local markets and contributed to a more sustainable future. Using the same model as these past programs, U Bike Electric will help consumers find the best option for their commuting needs by offering discounts on various e-bikes during a specified timeframe.

Five local bike shops were chosen through a competitive screening process and will be participating in the program including Bingham Cyclery, Contender Bicycles, Guthrie Bicycle Company, eSpokes Electric Bicycles, Trek Bicycle Salt Lake City Downtown.

Participating community members can sign up for the program at electric.utah.edu. Once registered, participants will receive a discount code to take to participating dealers to purchase the e-bike of their choice.

Discounts for electric bicycles vary by make and model, and range between ten and twenty-five percent off of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Selected dealers are certified to maintain electric bikes after purchase, ensuring continued customer support long after purchasing.

“Utah Clean Energy is delighted to once again partner with the University of Utah to help accelerate air quality solutions,” said Kate Bowman, Utah Clean Energy’s project coordinator. “This is an exciting new program to help get more people on electric bikes by harnessing the power of community bulk-purchase and education to make choosing an electric bike affordable and easy.”

Members of the U community, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and even those who have attended U events, can take advantage of this great program.

There is an additional program coming to enable interested departments to purchase shared e-bikes for use around campus. More information on that program will be available in May – contact the Sustainability Office if you are interested to learn more.

 

About Sustainability at the University of Utah

The University of Utah is committed to integrating sustainability across all areas of the institution, including academics, operations and administration and to serving as a model for what is possible in sustainability. The Sustainability Office supports sustainability efforts of all kinds and works to better streamline initiatives and collaboration across campus.

About Utah Clean Energy
Utah Clean Energy is Utah’s leading expert public interest organization working to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency in a way that is beneficial not only for Utah’s environment and health, but also our economy and long-term energy security. Utah Clean Energy is committed to creating a future that ensures healthy, thriving communities for all, empowered and sustained by clean energies such as solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Community members are invited to test ride various makes and models during Earth Fest on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Marriott Library Plaza. Additional test ride opportunities will be offered throughout Salt Lake City in April and May. For more information on all test ride opportunities, visit electric.utah.edu.

Leadership Transition

Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth has accepted a position as dean at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, beginning in Fall 2018. 

“I have been incredibly fortunate to work with an outstanding team of people in the Sustainability Office and terrific partners across the university,” said Wildermuth. “We have achieved amazing things, such as the first of its kind offsite renewable energy purchase to provide 50% of the U’s electricity, the many new sustainability learning outcomes now embedded in our undergraduate curriculum, and our well-known and award-winning community discount programs for solar, electric vehicles and e-bikes. It has been a true honor to be part of these efforts and, given the wide support for sustainability from our many valued partners across the campus, there is no slowing the U’s sustainability train down. We are on a remarkable positive trajectory in all things sustainability, and I know the U will continue to be a place that dreams big and is a model for what is possible for all of us.”

Wildermuth’s tireless leadership has helped to make sustainability an integral part of the ethos of the University of Utah. The Sustainability Office celebrates her exciting next step even as we are sad to see her go.

Melding Perspectives, Finding Solutions

In Utah, the second driest state in the country, water is a critical issue. Our water systems are interconnected with human systems, and as our population expands and the climate changes, protecting and sharing this resource equitably will require collaboration between researchers, practitioners and decision makers.

When it comes to collaborative water research, the U’s Society, Water, and Climate Research Group (SWC) is leading the way. With the addition of five new faculty members, the group has undertaken an ambitious mandate – to meld multiple scientific perspectives toward finding sustainable water solutions for a changing world.

Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and incoming president, addresses faculty at the forum.

Many U faculty already had significant expertise related to water, society and climate, but there were areas that could be strengthened. A group of U researchers, led by the chair of the U’s Geography Department Andrea Brunelle, formed the SWC in 2013.

The team’s first task was to articulate gaps in the society, water and climate perspectives already at the U. Then they proposed new faculty positions to fill those gaps through the university’s Transformative Excellence Program. The Transformative Excellence Program is an ongoing hiring initiative seeking new faculty focused around interdisciplinary themes rather than discipline.

“If we are to truly address Utah’s – and the nation’s – societal issues, we must think beyond our traditional approaches,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Ruth Watkins, who is also the incoming present of the U. “The Transformative Excellence Program was designed to identify areas within the university where focusing on strategic additions to our faculty could enhance our preeminence and allow us to better serve the citizens of this state and country.”

Ten departments – Anthropology, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Economics, Environmental & Sustainability Studies, Geography, Geology & Geophysics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology – invested in this unique hiring process, an unprecedented level of interdepartmental collaboration.

“This hiring process was very inspiring and rewarding,” said Brunelle. “Working with a group of faculty who obviously care so much about these topics and this research that they would invest an absolutely tremendous amount of time working on these searches even without a guarantee of a departmental hire was incredible. Even after the hires were completed, all the departments are represented on the SWC executive committee, showing continued investment in this collaborative endeavor.”

As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, this kind of cluster-hiring can be a fraught endeavor. It is challenging to ensure the process doesn’t unravel in the context of disciplinary hiring needs.

At the U, the SWC hiring process fit in with the university’s ethos of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Several years earlier, in 2011, the U underwent a similar hiring process for a small group of faculty who would work at the fringes of their discipline on climate- and environmental change-related research. This initial search ultimately brought Diane Pataki (Biology), Gabe Bowen (Geology & Geophysics) and John Lin (Atmospheric Sciences) to the U. This first group hire, which laid the groundwork for the Transformative Excellence Program, happened through the dedicated efforts of faculty in the Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC), which was led at the time by director emeritus Jim Ehleringer.

Audience members at the forum gather for panel presentation from (L to R) Amy Wildermuth, chief sustainability officer; Steve Burian, director of the U Water Center; Andrea Brunelle, co-chair of the Society, Water, & Climate Research Group; and Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

The GCSC is a web of 140 faculty members in 10 colleges who all work within environmental and sustainability themes. The center facilitates faculty connections and interdisciplinary grants, offers graduate fellowships and research funds and manages a sustainability-related graduate certificate. In addition, the GCSC also has a series of ongoing and one-time events aimed at bringing the interdisciplinary community together in meaningful ways. All of these endeavors work to catalyze relevant research on global change and sustainability at the U.

“The investment the administration put into the GCSC really set a tone for the value that collaborative work has on this campus and that translated beautifully to the SWC project,” Brunelle said. “A great example of this is the generous contributions of time, resources and support that my Dean, Cindy Berg, provided throughout the multi-year hiring process.”

To build the SWC research group, broad descriptions of new faculty positions were posted online. The response was immediate and overwhelming. In the first year of the search, 13 candidates were brought to campus, offering fascinating talks about climate change and impacts on water and society.

After several years of intensive searches and interviews, the group is now complete with five new faculty in four departments. These five faculty bring nationally renowned research to the university while seamlessly integrating into their departmental homes.

“The Society, Water and Climate initiative has really helped to integrate GCSC scholars from across campus around a common set of questions and problems that require scholars to come together in new ways,” said Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC. “The SWC focus has helped us to recognize and identify common research interests between seemingly separate fields and is creating opportunities for faculty and students to advance their work in new directions. The incoming SWC faculty are interdisciplinary leaders and are already catalyzing and supporting projects and grant proposals that move all of us forward as we work towards a future where humans and ecosystems thrive.”

Meet SWC hires. These members will join existing faculty who are part of the group.

William Anderegg, Biology, 2016

William Anderegg is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Utah. His lab studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling and biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks. This research spans a broad array of spatial scales, from cells to ecosystems, and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests and societies around the world.

Juliet Carlisle, Political Science, arriving in 2018                                                                         

Juliet Carlisle is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science. Her research substantively deals with political behavior and public opinion with an emphasis on environmental politics and policy. In particular, Carlisle has investigated issues surrounding environmental concern, including what people know about the environment, where that knowledge originates and how that knowledge influences their opinions and behaviors. Her co-authored book, “The Politics of Energy Crises” (2017), applies policy theories to energy crises and explores energy policy during energy crises with specific attention on the role of public opinion, business interests and environmental activists.

Gannet Hallar, Atmospheric Sciences, 2016

Gannet Hallar is an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Utah and the director of Storm Peak Laboratory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, operated by the Desert Research Institute. Her research focuses on using high-quality measurements of trace gases, aerosol physical and chemical properties and cloud microphysics to understand connections between the biosphere, atmosphere and climate, along with the impact of anthropogenic emissions on these connections.

Summer Rupper, Geography, 2015

Summer Rupper is an associate professor in the Geography Department at the University of Utah. Her research focuses on glaciers and ice sheets as recorders and indicators of climate change and as freshwater resources. Recent and ongoing projects include quantifying glacier contributions to water resources and sea-level rise, assessing glacier sensitivity to climate change and reconstructing past climate using ice core snow accumulation data and geomorphic evidence of past glacier extents. These projects are all part of a larger effort to characterize climate variability and change and the impacts of these on society.

S. McKenzie Skiles, Geography, 2017

McKenzie Skiles is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Utah. She is an alpine and snow hydrologist whose research interests center on snow energy balance, remote sensing of mountain snow and ice and cryosphere-climate interaction. Her research methods combine numerical modeling, laboratory analysis, and field, in situ, and remotely sensed observations to better constrain the timing and magnitude of mountain snowmelt and to improve our understanding of how accelerated mountain snowmelt is impacting this critical natural reservoir over time.

The SWC is one of 10 Transformative Excellence cluster hiring initiatives currently in place at the U. Current projects include families and health research; society, water and climate; statistical science and big data; digital humanities; biophysics; sustaining biodiversity; health economics and health policy; resilient spaces (aging); science and math education; and neuroscience.

Banner image: Members of the SWC chat at the November 2017 Water Forum, the inaugural event for the Society, Water & Climate Research Group, organized by the SWC, the Global Change & Sustainability Center, and U Water Center.