Resilience On the Ground and In Class
As climate change heats up, the global “weirding” of weather patterns has universities and governments scrambling to respond to emergency weather situations. In this month’s cover story, Prism Associate Editor Jennifer Pocock examines the innovative ways they are helping communities to adapt and become more resilient before the next storm—or drought, or wildfire—hits. She finds that the solutions can be summed up in one word: interdisciplinarity.
Some of these program combinations are intuitive, like the University of Puerto Rico’s combined engineering-architecture-construction course. Others, less so. At Colorado State University, engineers work in tandem with sociologists and ecologists to make communities whole. A Columbia University professor brings architects, engineers, ornithologists, ecologists, historians, artists, activists, and more into one room to create change at both the local and governmental level.
Alongside these academics are cartographers who wish to predict flood patterns through the end of the century, governments creating wholesale infrastructure change with the help of tunnels and plants, and a crash course in cleaning clothes using nothing but two buckets and a toilet plunger.
Newark, N.J., demonstrates another kind of resilience. There, the New Jersey Institute of Technology has joined in a partnership with City Hall and the public schools to remedy a perplexing problem: the paucity of local high school graduates coming to NJIT, a public university. The reason, educators concluded, was inadequate preparation in math. NJIT’s response appears unusually well thought out and thorough: Besides seven weeks of intensive precalculus instruction from math faculty on the NJIT campus over the summer, it includes preparation for standardized tests and college applications and two semesters of on-campus learning for rising high-school seniors. Particularly important is that teachers from each of the four participating high schools attended the summer training as well, absorbing research-based NJIT teaching techniques with the expectation that they, in turn, will train their colleagues.
A few months ago, our cover story dealt with the global problem of plastic waste. Now, Thomas Grose examines another 21st-century problem: space debris, and schemes that engineering academics are devising to reduce chances of a low-Earth-orbit collision with costly consequences.
We hope you enjoy the November Prism.