June 26, 2014

Environment Initiative Builds Community, Addresses Critical Issues

The Georgetown Environment Initiative aims to expand existing research, offer new avenues for collaboration between faculty in different disciplines, and build opportunities for student-faculty research. Founded with a major gift, the initiative is directed by a steering committee chaired by biology professor Matt Hamilton.

In addition to providing opportunities for current faculty and students to conduct impactful research, the initiative plans to build Georgetown’s presence in Washington, D.C. and beyond as a center of innovative, interdisciplinary thinking about the environment.

A Key Twenty-First Century Topic

Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit heritage underscores the importance of responsible environmental stewardship. It is also an increasingly noteworthy topic in national and global policy conversations. Many policy responses are crafted in Washington; President Obama delivered a speech in 2013 on his administration’s responses to climate change from the steps of Georgetown’s historic Old North building.

“Being in Washington, D.C is a huge opportunity and one that we can grow into,” says Hamilton. Along with university-wide work on sustainability, the Environment Initiative helps Georgetown leverage its location in Washington, D.C., to be a center of major global conversations on environmental science and policy.

For that reason, Hamilton emphasizes that the initiative will focus on “all different kinds of scholarly output.” This will allow the initiative to maximize its contributions to national and international policy debates, as well as on-campus conversations about environment-related scholarship.

Expanding Opportunities for Scholarship

The primary goal of the initiative is to achieve broad multi-campus and interdisciplinary reach across the university. Hamilton surveyed the faculty and found that many already self-identify their work as having some aspect related to the environment.

 Hamilton sees the initiative as a natural way to help “create a much broader sense of community among all those whose work touches on the environment” and “catalyze multi- and inter-disciplinary scholarship” among existing and emerging constituencies.

“The Environment Initiative is here to encourage scholarship related to the environment in all disciplines and produce all different kinds of scholarly output,” he continued. To encourage inter- and multi-disciplinary work, pilot grants will “help people collaborate who might not ordinarily have the opportunity to do so.”

Supporting Students

In addition to pilot grants and seminars for faculty, the initiative is committed to facilitating in-depth research experiences with faculty at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Additionally, part of the initiative’s founding gift is intended to prepare students for further studies and careers in environment-related fields. 

The initiative will also provide competitive stipends for otherwise-unpaid internships; funding for professional students to work on environmental issues in addition to their studies in law, policy, or medicine; and scholarships for undergraduates interested in environmental studies.

Building a Scholarly Community

Examining the pressing issues of environmental degradation and stewardship is “key to universities in general, including Georgetown,” says Hamilton. As the Environment Initiative begins to attract faculty, produce research, and engage students in environmental science and policy conversations, its most important effect at Georgetown may be the creation of a community of environmental students and scholars. 

As that community expands to involve and include outside students, scholars, and practitioners from around the world, the initiative will give Georgetown a leading voice in the global environmental conversation.