09:33 AM

Ohio State conference to focus on building resilient and sustainable communities

Experts from The Ohio State University and its communities will gather in Columbus, Ohio, in January to work together on solutions to support communities through social, economic and environmental changes.

The Ohio State University 2019 Community Engagement Conference is set for Jan. 23 and 24 in the Ohio Union. The theme this academic year is Partnering for a Resilient and Sustainable Future.

“Sustainability is really about asking questions about how can we grow our society and develop our economy in ways that are in balance with our environment, our earth’s systems and our natural resources,” said conference co-director Elena Irwin, faculty director for the Sustainable and Resilient Economy program. “How can we do that in ways that promote the prosperity of people in our community and of all people?”

The focus of the inaugural Community Engagement Conference last January centered on building and maintaining healthy communities. This conference will bring together faculty, students, staff and community partners to explore the importance and impact of meaningful community-university partnerships with the goal of advancing sustainable communities.

“By bringing these people together we can work together and learn from each other about research efforts that are going on and activities that are occurring in these communities and how to bridge that gap and bring solutions to these communities,” said conference co-director Linda Weavers, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.

Weavers said the theme this year is especially relevant as the country and planet grapple with environmental crises like hurricanes or wildfires.

“Resiliency is really how communities can recover from some sort of catastrophic event. So say there is a tornado or a hurricane on a coastal area: How can we design cities and how can we organize the communities and those cities so that they can recover and have the lowest amount of damage?” she said. “And it may not necessarily be in ways we traditionally think about that ability to recover.”

Both co-directors said the conference serves Ohio State’s land-grant mission to remain connected to the state and serve as a resource for solving problems in Ohio communities. It was a point President Michael V. Drake highlighted when announcing the conference.

“For nearly 150 years, our mission has been to elevate our communities through the creation and dissemination of knowledge,” he said. “Through this event, Ohio State will focus on expanding our engagement and scaling our efforts to address issues that affect us all.”

The keynote speakers for the conference are leaders in environmental advocacy. Mary Robinson is former president of Ireland and head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She will be joined at the conference by environmental policy expert Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, the sustainability policy adviser to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Experts from across Ohio, the county and the world working with researchers, teachers and students from Ohio State to discuss and present solutions to big problems is just the beginning.

“A meaningful partnership that endures starts with, for example, a faculty member or a student who has an interest in doing research and is open and interested in a truly authentic way to understanding how that research connects to community problems and can be a solution,” Irwin said.

The 2019 Community Engagement Conference is made possible by Ohio State’s Alumni Association, Corporate Engagement Office, Discovery Themes Initiative, Graduate School, Office of Energy and Environment, Office of International Affairs, Office of Outreach and Engagement, Office of Research, Office of Student Life, Office of Undergraduate Education, OSU Extension, Office of Government Affairs, the Ohio Water Resources Center and Sustainable and Resilient Economy program.