Global Change Center expands commitment to innovative graduate education
The grand challenges confronting society are big and complex – such as global climate change, pollution, and the spread of emerging infectious diseases and invasive species. More than ever before, scientists are compelled to consider the context and implications of their research through broader social, cultural, and economic perspectives.
Educational institutions including Virginia Tech are adapting by developing transdisciplinary training programs urgently needed to cultivate the next generation of leaders to solve these complex problems.
For the Global Change Center (GCC), one of the core centers in the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, becoming a member of ANGLES: A Network for Graduate Leadership in Sustainability is providing tools and resources to help graduate students become more holistic researchers.
With membership spanning 20 institutions across the United States and Canada, ANGLES is a network of higher education professionals dedicated to graduate student leadership development centered in sustainability, environmental, and societal issues. The GCC engages with ANGLES members from Brown University, Cornell University, Duke University, and McGill University as well as initiatives such as the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.
“We jumped at the opportunity to join ANGLES when we were invited,” said William Hopkins, professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“In our first year of membership, this network has already provided us with insights on important topics like effective mentorship and navigating student engagement and mental health during the pandemic," said Hopkins, who also serves as the director of the GCC and the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program.
Administratively housed within the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University, ANGLES’ mission is to grow the capacity for collective leadership and impact on sustainability issues by accelerating and improving leadership development in graduate education. The network’s philosophy focuses on identifying what can be achieved when we align our efforts to advance the next leaders by harnessing synergies among institutions to narrow gaps in graduate leadership training.
“The ANGLES network is dedicated to equipping graduate students with the skills they need to accelerate progress on pressing global sustainability challenges," said Aleta Weller, senior research and engagement officer at the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University and one of the founding members of the initiative.
"ANGLES was created to cultivate efficiencies, share lessons learned, and help interested institutions to start similar programs. We are thrilled to welcome Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center into the network. The Global Change Center’s deep and comprehensive experience developing students to become agents of change will be magnified beyond the network,” said Weller.
As part of this network, the Global Change Center and the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program both gain access and contribute to a growing collection of resources geared toward emerging themes and tools in graduate leadership and curriculum development. Virginia Tech is represented at bimonthly ANGLES network meetings as well as a searchable, skills and aptitudes database that details sustainability leadership training activities offered by network members across North America.
The Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program at Virginia Tech, co-administered by the Global Change Center, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, and the Virginia Tech Graduate School, was established in 2013 with ambitions to provide training opportunities to Ph.D. students related to socio-environmental issues that includes formalized training related to leadership, science communication, stakeholder engagement, and the art of effective collaboration.
With approximately 65 Ph.D. fellows representing more than a dozen departments, the concept of shared learning is engrained in the program’s core values and function.
The ANGLES network complements Virginia Tech's Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Initiative that is designed to push the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education.
“We aim to fundamentally change how graduate students prepare to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals in an ever-evolving global context" said Aimée Surprenant, dean of the Graduate School. "The leadership and professional development tools provided by this national network will significantly enhance our students’ experiences and we are delighted that the GCC and Virginia Tech were invited to join."
“Building relationships with other prosperous, top-tier programs around the country will have a diversity of shared benefits,” said Hopkins. “For example, in the years to come our involvement should increase line of sight to the tremendous graduate training opportunities at Virginia Tech and become a valuable asset for our faculty affiliates seeking to recruit talented graduate students from diverse backgrounds.”
Today, the Interfaces of Global Change Program boasts dozens of alumni working around the world to confront these global challenges. From fighting the spread of invasive pathogens that decimate biodiversity in Central America to developing sustainable aquaculture practices in Ghana in the face of climate change — the program’s alumni are leading teams of researchers and practitioners on the front lines.
“As a land grant university, our graduates are our greatest accomplishment,” Hopkins said.
Written by Jessica Zielske