McCormack Speaks

Like an “Environmental Special Ops Team,” IGERT Fellows Study Coasts and Communities


Nantucket shoreline The PhD Program in Global Governance and Human Security is one of four doctoral programs at UMass Boston collaborating in the Coasts and Communities IGERT Fellowship Program. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its prestigious Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, the Coasts and Communities program will train a new kind of environmental problem solver, one able to think and act across disciplinary and geographic boundaries and to develop and implement sustainable solutions to pressing environmental problems facing coasts and communities.

Just completing their orientation on the island of Nantucket and in a Boston Harbor “boot camp,” two IGERT fellows reflect on the active learning in their fellowship program so far.
From Michael Cole
Research interests: Water-energy-resource nexus, Distributional climate mitigation/adaptation policy outcomes

“After just one week, the NSF-IGERT Coasts and Communities program is shaping up to be the experience of a lifetime. During our orientation on Nantucket, we met with key stakeholders, experts, and locals to gain a better understanding of the island’s challenges, successes, and opportunities for the future. During our stay at the UMass Field Station, we learned about the island’s diverse and complex ecology—one of the primary engines of Nantucket’s economy and an undeniable source of pride and beauty for islanders and tourists alike. We also learned about Nantucket’s rich history as well as the anthropogenic changes to the island that have shaped the socio-economic and environmental landscape from the 18th century to today.

During the Activity Before Concept (ABC) exercise, the 2017 IGERT cohort worked together as a team, building on the expertise and experiences of each fellow to identify some of the “wicked” problems facing Nantucket and to envision a development path to 2050 that is both equitable and sustainable. Although we only had a handful of days to acclimate to the political, social, and environmental dynamics on the island, the creative and transdisciplinary solutions developed during this exercise may well serve as a rough action plan for the people of Nantucket.

The following week, we turned our attention to the 2017 Boston Harbor Boot Camp, a rigorous and immersive three-day experience that entailed active learning … and hands-on training in water quality and stream flow measurements, sample collection, and urban development planning. We also learned about the collective action challenges facing state and local policy makers in which no one municipality is solely responsible for the problem—storm water management, for example. It was interesting to see how transboundary problems and management play out at local and state levels compared to the international level; as many of those challenges associated with multilateralism persist, highlighting the complexity of multi-stakeholder coordination at all levels of analysis.

This week of active learning constitutes a modest first step toward solving the ‘wicked’ problems of today. The program’s problem-solution based approach will continue to push our research beyond the classroom, beyond theory and into the policy-making arena, where ideas meet reality. As we continue to learn together, form collaborative networks, listen and devise flexible solutions that consider opportunities and barriers to action, I am confident that our cohort will make a lasting and tangible contribution to society and the world we envision for tomorrow.”

From Jack Whitacre
Research interests: Global environmental governance, Coasts and communities, Human security 

“Like an environmental special ops team, our Global Governance cohort met with 15 environmental scholars from UMass Boston to generate transdisciplinary environmental solutions to stakeholders in Nantucket in under 47 hours. From the UMass Field Station, one can see the Atlantic and the sheer size of this earth. This liquid desert foreshadows a world with limited natural resources, complex environmental management demands, and fluctuating housing and employment needs.

Known as IGERT fellows, we immersed ourselves into conversations with naturalists, examined sticky tent caterpillar eggs, and dug into the island’s international history. By exploring theory and practice of a unique island community, our cohort practiced ABC, heard multiple stakeholder perspectives, and ultimately delivered three context dependent options for an environmentally and economically sustainable future.

The combination of fast-paced, long hours and different disciplines lent itself to an atmosphere of creativity and intellectual rigor. My biggest take away was that one can’t ‘solve’ a problem without understanding the problem itself. Therefore, in some ways, the problem contains the solution.

Despite how small we are in the a world of grand oceans and passing time, a team that collaborates, listens to community needs, and iteratively strives for improvement, can benefit the world.”

The Global Governance and Human Security doctoral program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies is an interdisciplinary program which seeks to address global issues from multiple perspectives and methodological approaches. It prepares scholars and analysts to provide intellectual leadership as academics, researchers, or practitioners. In addition to environmental concerns, students examine a wide range of issues including peacemaking, human rights, economic development, education, and health.

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