Institute of the Environment at University of Arizona


Monday March 10th began our first day of interviews and I had the pleasure of leading the discussion with Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. In her charming British accent, Dr. Liverman introduced the Institute of the Environment and gave a brief progress report of the last five years since it was established. The biggest component she emphasized was how the Institute is a network model, as opposed to an empire model. This means that the University of Arizona does not have a “college of the environment”, primarily because environmental studies have been infused in a majority of the departments. At the Institute, ten core-staff members and two co-directors, Dr. Liverman and John Overpeck, help to foster collaborations amongst the campus, community and the state, to help analyze environmental challenges and generate solution-driven opportunities. They also act as a resource to promote the environmental research and transform it into useful knowledge for affiliated decision makers, community members, students and stakeholders. In addition, they produce a “Green Degree Guide” and a “Green Course Guide” that serves as an informative outlet for students to stay connected with the various degrees being offered within the environmental field. These guides are the Institute’s primary way of making the programs open and transparent to students so they know how to stay on track within the environmental realm.

Additionally at the Institute, they aim to be a flagship of environmental knowledge in the service of society. As a result of acting as an environmental communications and information outlet with solutions based research, they have been successful due to four major components that Dr. Liverman listed as:

  1. Independent long term funding
  2. Collaborative faculty
  3. Acquiring a land grant mission to serve the state
  4. Arizona’s environmental elements

Collectively, these four strengths have allowed the Institute to function and promote the research they produce.

For future planning, Dr. Liverman discussed how the Institute is in the hands of the University of Arizona faculty and maintaining its excellence. While they succeed at encompassing an organic approach, funding is often the biggest obstacle when trying to preserve programs and faculty. Her advice however, in regards to future planning, both at University of Arizona and at a liberal arts school like Dickinson, is to embrace 100% student engagement, to develop more innovative research and adapt a center that involves community and public programs.

My biggest take away from the conversation with Dr. Liverman was her advice on the early stages of starting a curriculum change. During our process of figuring out how to make a curriculum change at Dickinson I hope to infuse her advice on promoting collaborations across departments. A new program should seek to embrace virtually every field of the college. Utilizing the interdisciplinary skills of faculty could help “cultivate campus as a learning laboratory” and enhance the program we strive to develop.