Tag Archives: resilience

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.


We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

Ride the Route in Reverse

4 Oct

Last weekend, my family and I were in Gloucester, MA for the Grand Prix of Gloucester – an annual cyclocross race held at historic Stage Fort Park (www.gpgloucester.com).  The weather was beautiful, and we spent many hours outside cheering the racers, riding our bikes, exploring the fishing piers, and watching the drawbridge go up and down.  The weekend also reminded me of some insights I had while training over the summer.

Gloucester1modMy morning cyclocross ride in Gloucester, MA.

I love riding my bike.  And the Pioneer Valley offers a perfect setting for cycling with its rolling hills, acres of farmland, and the Connecticut River.  Over the years, I have developed some routes that I ride regularly.  The familiarity of these rides leads to some efficiencies – I can anticipate what’s around the next corner, I know when to shift, and I know how to balance my effort.  For the most familiar, I can even put myself on autopilot, and my mind can wander as I ride without really paying close attention.

 Every so often, however, I ride my route in reverse.  Though the roads are the same, the experience is quite different.  Forests and fields are viewed from a new angle.  What had been fast downhills – with no opportunity to look around – become slow uphills when details are noticed.  And the route leads to new surprises and discoveries as the lack of familiarity forces me to really see.  From a training perspective, while these rides in reverse are perhaps not as fast or efficient, they ultimately make me a better rider.  The newness engages different muscles, forces experimentation, and heightens my focus.

 The same can be said of our approach to environmental problems and challenges.  We can get used to doing things the way we always have – whether that familiarity comes from our choice of major, our culture, or personal experiences.  To innovate, we benefit from riding the route in reverse, by viewing a situation from another perspective, from engaging with others who have experiences that are different and distinct from our own.  This diversity leads to better decisions and more sustainable solutions.  While not always easy and sometimes uncomfortable, we all benefit when we are willing to really see the world from different perspectives and to hear a diversity of voices.

– Andrew Guswa
Director of CEEDS