Monday, August 31, 2015

PIRE Workshop on Urban Infrastructure Transformations in China, India and the US

On August 23-24, the PIRE program hosted a workshop at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington DC. The focus of the workshop was on "Urban Infrastructure Transformations in China, India and the US: Connecting Local Priorities with Global Carbon Targets." STEP students and faculty were joined by policy experts from the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, ICLEI, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Department of State, and the World Bank.

The Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) project is a part of the Center's Sustainable Cities Initiative. This interdisciplinary education program was developed that explores how the intersection of engineered infrastructures with social and natural systems shapes urban sustainability outcomes pertaining to resource management, environmental pollution, climate change, and public health.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Humphrey Students and Faculty Join Network of Nine Universities at Workshop in Georgia

Last week a number of Humphrey faculty, staff, and students participated in a week-long interdisciplinary course and workshop hosted at Georgia Institute of Technology. The workshop was a part of our new network aimed at building environmentally sustainable, healthy, and livable cities.

The course was co-led by Dr. Nisha Botchwey from Georgia Tech and Dr. Anu Ramaswami from the University of Minnesota. Students learned how to design interdisciplinary environmental studies, share best practices to work together across disciplines, explore the use of models, experiments, quasi-experiments, and case studies to address the overarching policy challenge of developing sustainable cities.

Humphrey Faculty/Staff
Anu Ramaswami
Elizabeth Wilson
Jerry Zhao
Jason Cao
Yingling Fan
Luke Hollenkamp
Brianna Menning
Ajay Nagpure

Rahul Sharma
Mauricio Leon
Jill Rook
Victoria Fiorentino
Halston Sleets
Peter Nixon
Olivia Yang
Yunlei Qi
Kate Gurke
Shai Fogelson
Andrew Fang
Dana Boyer
Kangkang Tong

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

STEP Area Leads a $12M Research Network to Build Health, Sustainable, and Livable Cities

The University of Minnesota has received a $12 million dollar award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring together a unique network of scientists, industry leaders, and policy partners committed to building better cities of the future.

The project is directed by Anu Ramaswami, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, with co-directors Patricia Culligan at Columbia University and Armistead Russell at Georgia Institute of Technology. The network will connect across nine research universities, major metropolitan cities in the U.S. and India, as well as infrastructure firms, and policy groups. The project includes 25 faculty members across the nine universities, and will involve more than 40 graduate students conducting research in cross-university interdisciplinary teams.

The network is the first of its size to focus on ways to reimagine infrastructure—energy grids, road networks, green spaces, and food and water systems—to create cities that are highly functional, promote the health of residents and the environment, and have that intangible “vibe” called livability, that makes cities desirable places to live and work.

Estimates indicate that by 2050, three billion more people will live in cities, resulting in two-thirds of the world’s population inhabiting urban areas. A majority of the future infrastructure required to accommodate that growth has yet to be built, or will need to be rehabilitated from existing systems. With business-as-usual trajectories, such growth will continue to exert tremendous pressure on water, energy, and land resources, creating traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban inequity that already affects the health of millions of urban residents today.

“We have to think in new ways about a city’s physical infrastructure to develop sustainable solutions,” says Professor Anu Ramaswami, of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, who is lead investigator and director for the project. “Understanding that these systems are interconnected, serves as a foundation for this work. For example, urban farms wouldn’t work very well without thinking about water, energy, and transportation infrastructure, as well as people, markets, and policies.”

Funded by the NSF’s Sustainability Research Network (SRN) program, the project, titled “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities,” will focus on a new movement gaining momentum in cities around the world toward “distributed,” or more local, infrastructure. Until now, development trends have resulted in very large infrastructure systems—large power grids, large roadway networks, complex systems that pipe water from distant rivers, and supply food from faraway states and countries. Emerging trends suggest cities may be better off building more local systems—urban farms, local solar generation, bike share systems, and more. This network will try to identify the best mix of local and large to achieve urban sustainability, health and livability goals, by examining infrastructure in diverse cities in the U.S. and India. The team will also explore the public attitudes and policies that can help achieve such urban transitions. Read more.

To learn more about the network visit:

Monday, July 13, 2015

We're Hiring a STEP Coordinator

We are looking for a STEP (Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy) Coordinator to assist with event planning, logistics, and communication. The STEP Coordinator will be responsible for overseeing planning, implementation, and all other aspects of STEP events and workshops, as well as events and workshops for projects associated with the STEP area. In addition to event coordination, the position assists with communications and marketing (including web and media skills) for the STEP area, and associated projects, and assist with basic office and project coordination skills.

Check out our job posting:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Meet Our PhD Student: Kangkang (KK) Tong

Q: What's your story?

I was born in a city where the Yangtze River runs through in China. Our family used to live on growing rice. My childhood experience living in a rural area drove me to choose environmental science as an undergraduate. After I gained my bachelor degree, I went to the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences to pursue a masters degree in ecology. After living in Beijing, one of the biggest cities in the world, for about four years, I decided to travel around a little bit, since I did not know what I should do for my rest of life. In the tradition of young people in China, I traveled to Tibet and then went to Nepal. I enjoyed hiking in the Mt. Everest area, and then I went to New Zealand. After travelling for about one year, I decided to come back to school and pursue my PhD degree, hoping to become a faculty member in the future.

Q: How did you end up in the PhD program at the Humphrey School?

When I pursued my master's degree I read Professor Anu Ramaswami’s paper about urban greenhouse gas emission footprints. After I decided to come back to school, I emailed Professor Ramaswami to ask whether she would be my adviser. I enrolled in the Master of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program for my first year, since the PhD program did not exist. One year later, I applied to the PhD degree program at the Humphrey School.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

My PhD program is largely supported by NSF-PIRE (Partnership for International Research and Education): Developing Low-Carbon Cities in the US, China, and India Through Integration Across Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences, and Public Health. I’m working under this program and focus on studies of Chinese cities. My work is to explore the environmental impact of urban activities from the perspective of infrastructure. In addition to environmental impact, I’m also looking at financial data to explore how public finance systems work around Chinese urban infrastructure systems.

Q: Have you participated in any cool events or conferences since joining the PhD program?

Last year, I went to Australia for an industrial ecology conference. It was my first time attending an international conference and I presented my four Chinese cities paper in front of a number of experts. I was happy that everything went well and I had chance to meet scholars doing environmental research from other institutes.

This June, I worked as a volunteer for the Public Management Research Association Conference at the Humphrey School. I was really happy to participate in the sessions and to learn  how scholars from public management/administration do research. As a PhD student, I had conversations with both junior and senior researchers about how to conduct research. Their suggestions on what I should do to prepare for my future career were very helpful. The real bridge between my environmental science background and public policy study has been forming gradually through listening to presentations and discussing issues with other researchers.

I also had the chance to be a student facilitator guiding conversations about climate change, at the World Wide Views on Climate Change event. The attendees' opinions on climate change will be integrated with citizens from other 130 cities and presented at the UN Climate Change conference in Pairs, France this December. This was my first time to listening to the public’s voice on climate change and I really enjoyed it.

Q: Have you recently published any research?

During my master's study, I published three Chinese papers. I recently submitted a group paper on estimating the infrastructure based greenhouse gas footprint of four Chinese cities and I’m preparing to submit another paper about the Chinese five-year plan.

Q: What are your future research plans?

As I mentioned above,  I’ve almost finished two projects and I’m doing another group project about city typology. In addition,  I’ll look at the financial data of urban infrastructure to understand how Chinese urban infrastructure systems are funded and what the influential factors are for deciding how much money is spent on these systems. The results can potentially shed some light on what we can do if we decide to fund a sustainable infrastructure. This discussion will be a part of my dissertation.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Conversation with Former STEP Student Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood graduated from the Humphrey School this past December and is currently based in Washington, DC.

Q: What’s your story?

I was born and raised in Rotorua, New Zealand. In 2008 I played with the NZ U17 & U20 women's soccer teams at their respective FIFA World Cups and subsequently accepted a scholarship offer to play soccer and study at Oklahoma State University. After a year as a microbiology major, I realized two things. First, I really did not enjoy working in a lab, and second, economics and political science were a lot more interesting than my high school teachers had led me to believe. As a result, I switched my academic focus to environmental science and policy which led me to the Humphrey School and then to Washington, D.C., where I live now.

Q: How did you end up at the Humphrey School?

I first heard about the Humphrey School from Tracy Boyer, my advisor at Oklahoma State and former Humphrey alum. After looking into what the Humphrey school offered, I visited as part of the diversity day’s initiative and was immediately impressed by the sense of community and wide range of opportunities offered to students at Humphrey. The MS-STEP program was also a perfect fit for my background and future interests, as it allowed me to build off my science background and develop a complementary policy skill set.

Q: What did you study during your time here?

As an MS-STEP student, I studied a range of issues within the science policy arena. I came to the program with an interest in water issues, something I pursued in both class work and through a research assistantship with Professor Deb Swackhamer. While still being passionate about water resource policy (register to learn about the upcoming webinar I’m organizing here), I ended up taking course work or researching a range of issues including innovation policy, renewable energy, green chemistry, and global policy.

Q: Any advice for MS-STEP students?

Two things. First, get involved with the Boreas Leadership Program at the Institute on the Environment. The networking opportunities are great, the workshops incredibly helpful, and you actually have the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and practice the skills you develop. Second, don’t think you have to choose a specific focus. During my 1.5 years as a student I worked on issues from wind energy to green chemistry. I initially thought my ability to choose a focus was disadvantageous, but after entering the world of science policy I’ve learnt that a broader set of interests just sets you up for a different type of work.

Q: Do you have any fun memories of the STEP program that you'd like to share?

One of my favorite memories from my time as a STEP student was our 2014 STEP retreat where we stayed at a cabin for the weekend, hiked, cooked great food, cross country skied, and took some time to discuss what was and wasn’t working for us in the STEP program. It was incredible that such a diverse group got on so well despite being crammed in a cabin for the weekend, but that’s just what makes the STEP program so great.

Q: What are you doing now that you've graduated?

After graduating from Humphrey in December, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and started working at the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) as the AGI/Schlumberger Fellow in Geoscience Communication. I primarily work with the Critical Issues Program, which aims to make it easier for decision makers to find, understand, and use geoscience information in the policy making process. There isn’t really a typical day in my position as my fellowship has me working on creating new content at the AGI office, at Capitol Hill attending briefings, and at a myriad of science policy events and conferences throughout the DC area. As you can imagine, the networking skills from Humphrey have really come in handy.

When I’m not working, I’m really enjoying the novel experience of not having papers, projects, and research to worry about when I get home at night. Instead, I get to explore the fantastic bike trails (not as great as MSP, of course) in the DC area, work as a soccer coach with a local club, and cook delicious meals rather than subsisting off the regular West Bank rotation of Afro Deli, Hard Times, Keefer Court, Arcadia, and Republic. My fellowship with AGI runs until February 2016 and after that, who knows. Maybe it’s time to head back home to New Zealand?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Professor Ramaswami Attends International Resource Panel in Vietnam

Professor Anu Ramaswami is currently in Hanoi, Vietnam as part of the 16th Meeting of the International Resource Panel (IRP) and its Steering Committee.

The IRP was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2007 to build and share the knowledge needed to improve our use of resources worldwide. The Panel’s goal is to steer us away from over-consumption, waste and ecological harm towards a more prosperous and sustainable future.

The core objectives of this meeting are to review the progress in the preparation of on-going IRP assessment reports, examine new study proposals, and explore the policy-relevance of the Panel’s new findings.

As one of the IRP's panel members, Professor Ramaswami is responsible for helping to develop the IRP program of work, and to highlight important research opportunities within her international, regional and national networks.
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