Rachael Budowle has joined the Honors College as its newest collegiate assistant professor. Budowle said she hopes to bolster the capacity of the Honors College to facilitate collaborative and transdisciplinary experiences, enabling students to learn by affecting meaningful change around complex and pressing social and environmental challenges.

“The Honors College approach to transdisciplinary learning and research is invigorating and a perfect fit for me. I’m so pleased to collaborate with exceptional students, staff, faculty, and partners to explore and address these challenges,” said Budowle.

As a cultural anthropologist, Budowle’s work focuses on a range of resilience, sustainability, justice, and equity issues, including food systems, security, and sovereignty; local climate action; and emerging energy technologies and transitions. Her ethnographic, narrative, and community-based participatory research often engages students as co-researchers.

Cultivating community partnerships is critical to both her research and teaching. Budowle joins the faculty leadership team in the Honors College with a focus on community engagement. She brings extensive expertise in community-engaged and project- and place-based teaching, previously supporting interdisciplinary teams of students to design and implement over 50 sustainability-oriented projects with and for campus and community nonprofit, government, and industry mentors and stakeholders. Examples include greenhouse gas emissions inventories and communitywide reduction plans and shaping a county-level multi-stakeholder food policy council.

She will reinvigorate the Honors Service Learning course with a similar approach.

“I’m excited to relaunch this course, using campus and the surrounding community as a sustainability living laboratory by directly working with partners who are leading this work," she said. "That course will also allow me to extend my interrelated community-engaged teaching and research, including a focus on cultivating more equitable community-university sustainability partnerships and how students can serve as key change agents within them.”

Budowle received a 2023-24 VT Engage Faculty Fellowship to support this effort in partnership with the VT Climate Action, Sustainability, and Energy team.

Soon after joining the Honors College, she also joined Virginia Tech’s Justice Challenge team. The Justice Challenge allows honors students from 14 universities across the country to learn from and collaborate with leaders on food and climate justice and sustainable agriculture. Budowle’s expertise will support students to examine cultural and social aspects of food justice in a community-based Design Challenge studio course that she will teach in spring 2024.

Through similar Discovery and Innovation Studio courses, Budowle is eager to engage Honors students in her own research. She is the lead principal investigator for a multi-university, three-year $800,000 Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program-funded project, Engaging Wyoming Communities in an Environmental Justice Approach for Advanced Nuclear Energy Facility Siting the first funding of its kind focused on community engagement and environmental justice. Students will examine historical cases across the nuclear fuel cycle in the western U.S., contributing to a cultural analysis and mapping effort that may inform the project.

In addition to engaging students, her research often converges at the interface of her disciplinary expertise and the scholarship of teaching and learning. For example, she recently guest co-edited and contributed to a special section in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development on "Justice and Equity Approaches to College and University Student Food (In)Security." The section is the first in the journal supported by the Interinstitutional Network for Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability (INFAS). This summer, Budowle joined the INFAS national executive committee and began serving as chair of the INFAS Justice working group. In that role, she is leading a project to document and explore better practices for land-grant universities’ truth and reconciliation strategies with Native American tribes, communities, and students.

Looking ahead, Budowle is eager to contribute to signature experiences in the Honors College, including in its new minor in collaborative discovery. She has already begun collaborating with faculty to develop and co-teach a new version of the Honors SuperStudio course beginning in fall 2024.

“The Honors College allows faculty like me to design and implement transdisciplinary pedagogies for our students, providing exemplary strategies to scale across the university and beyond. I’m thrilled to join such an innovative research and teaching environment.”

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