The major challenges facing society are large and complex – such as global climate change, pollution and the spread of emerging infectious diseases and invasive species. More than ever, scientists are being forced to consider the context and implications of their research from broader social, cultural and economic perspectives.
Educational institutions like Virginia Tech are adapting by developing transdisciplinary training programs that are badly needed to train the next generation of leaders to solve these complex problems.
For the Global Change Center (GCC), one of the core centers of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, membership in ANGLES: A Network for Graduate Leadership in Sustainability provides tools and resources to help graduate students become more holistic researchers.
With a membership of 20 institutions across the United States and Canada, ANGLES is a network of higher education professionals dedicated to developing graduate leadership skills with a focus on sustainability, environment and society. The GCC works with ANGLES members from Brown University, Cornell University, Duke University, and McGill University, as well as with initiatives such as the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.
“We jumped at the opportunity to join ANGLES when we were invited,” said William Hopkins, a professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“In our first year of membership, this network has already provided us with insights into important issues such as effective mentoring and governance of student engagement and mental health during the pandemic,” said Hopkins, who also serves as director of the GCC and interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program.
Administratively housed within the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University, ANGLES aims to expand the capacity for collective leadership and influence on sustainability issues by accelerating and enhancing leadership development in higher education. The network’s philosophy focuses on exploring what can be achieved when we focus our efforts on advancing the next leaders by leveraging synergies between institutions to fill gaps in graduate leadership education.
“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 of Colorado State University and one of the founding members of the initiative.
“ANGLES was formed to drive efficiencies, share lessons learned, and help interested institutions embark on similar programs. We are excited to welcome Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center to the network. The deep and broad experience of the Global Change center in the development of students to agents of change is enlarged beyond the network,” said Weller.
As part of this network, the Global Change Center and the interdisciplinary graduate education program Interfaces of Global Change gain access to and contribute to a growing collection of resources focused on emerging topics and tools in graduate leadership and curriculum development at. Virginia Tech is represented at bi-monthly ANGLES network meetings, as well as a searchable Skills and Skills database detailing sustainability leader training activities offered by network members across North America.
Virginia Tech’s Interfaces of Global Change interdisciplinary graduate education program, administered jointly by the Global Change Center, Fralin Life Sciences Institute and Virginia Tech Graduate School, was established in 2013 with the goal of providing Ph.D. Students engaging with socio-environmental issues, including formalized training in leadership, science communication, stakeholder engagement and the art of effective collaboration.
With around 65 Ph.D. Fellows representing more than a dozen departmentsthe concept of shared learning is embedded in the core values and function of the programme.
The ANGLES network complements Virginia Tech Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Initiative, which aims to push the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education.
“Our goal is to fundamentally transform the way graduate students prepare to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists and professionals in an ever-evolving global context,” said Aimée Surprenant , Dean of Graduate School. “The guidance and professional development tools provided by this national network will greatly enhance our student experiences, and we are pleased that GCC and Virginia Tech have been invited to join.”
“Building relationships with other successful, world-class programs across the country will have a multitude of shared benefits,” Hopkins said. “For example, our commitment in the years to come should increase visibility to the tremendous graduate education opportunities at Virginia Tech and become a valuable asset to our faculty members who seek to recruit talented graduate students from diverse backgrounds.”
Today, the Interfaces of Global Change Program works with dozens of alumni around the world to address these global challenges. From combating the spread of invasive pathogens decimating 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 frontline researchers and practitioners.
“As a land grant university, our graduates are our greatest achievement,” Hopkins said.
Written by Jessica Zielske