FEATURE—Fall 2007

(From left) Lap-Chee Tsui, vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong; Lawrence J. Lau, president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Nami Kitamura, professor of energy sustainability at the University of Tokyo; and Binglin Gu, president of Tsinghua University, enjoy a view of the Gateway Arch prior to their tour of the facility May 5.

Environmental Challenges Bring World Leaders to St. Louis

Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy hosts an inaugural symposium to discuss great global environmental challenges. Worldwide collaboration among university partners grows as a result, and the University forms a new center to tackle issues of renewable energy and sustainability.

By Rick Skwiot

Even before it ended, the unprecedented International Symposium on Energy and Environment—held May 4–7, 2007, at Washington University under the auspices of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy—yielded substantive international actions in what its leaders call “the greatest challenges of this century.”
Among those are the following:
an international “Call to Action” (news-info.wustl.edu) by academic leaders of WUSTL and the 19 attending McDonnell Academy partner schools—including 12 university presidents—to address pressing energy and environmental issues;
the formation of the McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environment Partnership (MAGEEP)—an international consortium of universities committed to collaborating (mageep.wustl.edu);
the establishment of a Web site (eeed.wustl.edu) listing collected information on 500 related course-offerings of the partner schools, including course content, along with plans for future educational collaboration (co-development, co-teaching, and establishing a collaboratory) among the Asian and Middle Eastern universities and Washington University;
a $500,000 commitment from Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton to fund collaborative activities leading to a follow-up symposium in Hong Kong in December 2008. Plans are under way to incorporate graduate students from the partner schools at the next summit;
a promise from the president of Fudan University in Shanghai to expand his university’s energy and environment department into a school of its own, and a similar pledge from the president of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay to form a department of energy and environment there (as well as the announcement of many other initiatives at other partner schools);
an agreement among attending institutions to lead by example, employing best practices in areas such as energy efficiency and environmentally sound building construction and renovation. Washington University recently hired Mathew Malten, an assistant vice chancellor, to lead the campus sustainability efforts; and
numerous other informal agreements for research, educational, and administrative endeavors.

Further, in response to the Call to Action, four weeks later Washington University announced the creation of a new International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES), to encourage and coordinate university-wide and external collaborative research in the areas of renewable energy and sustainability. The University will invest more than $55 million in I-CARES (i-cares.wustl.edu) to foster institutional, regional, and international research on biofuels development and production, CO2 mitigation and coal-related issues, and exploration of sustainable alternative energy and environmental systems and practices. Himadri B. Pakrasi, the George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences and professor of energy in the School of Engineering, will direct the Center.

According to Chancellor Wrighton, I-CARES will coordinate research efforts at the University and work with other organizations in the greater St. Louis region to explore alternative energy sources, such as biofuels, to meet energy challenges. It will build on expertise in genomics, microbiology, plant science, materials, environmental engineering, systems science, computer science, economics, political science, architecture, and social work to develop novel products, applications, and sustainability practices.

Creating “tremendous synergies”
“We knew the symposium was something unique—never had 20 schools from Asia, the Middle East, and America come together before for discussions on energy and the environment at a single location at a University—but when we assembled, there was tremendous excitement,” says Pratim Biswas, symposium coordinator and chair of the University’s Department of Energy, Environmental, & Chemical Engineering. “We found tremendous synergies, a readiness to take it to the next level, and a commitment to collaboration and cooperation.”

That willingness to work together is embodied in the Call to Action, which urges cooperation not only among the Academy institutions but in “all segments of society to join us in this vital effort” to tackle energy and environmental issues. It outlines four overarching areas of collaboration: education, research, social science and policy studies, and university operations.

Biswas, the Stifel and Quinette Jens Professor, finds the educational collaboration “particularly exciting.” In addition to sharing curriculum information, the schools are planning to offer courses together.

“There were extensive discussions on co-teaching,” says Biswas, and on how schools can capitalize on one another’s strengths in teaching and research. “We want to set up classrooms in a collaborative way, with physical connectivity via satellite, so, for example, we could view a field experiment going on in China.”

Biswas, who plans to help team-teach a mini-course at the December 2008 Hong Kong symposium, is also excited about the potential impact of the newly established Web site that lists all partner-university energy and environmental courses by institution and subject area—such as air quality and pollution control, ecology and ecosystems, and law and policy. The public site also features extensive course content and discussion.

“We will develop and add content continuously,” says Biswas. “Collectively we teach 200,000 students. With the Web site, we can reach out to millions more and make a true impact.” For information on energy and environmental initiatives at the University: ees.wustl.edu, i-cares.wustl.edu, eeed.wustl.edu, mageep.wustl.edu.

An urgent global need
The McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environment Partnership (MAGEEP)—a consortium of universities committed to working together (see mageep.wustl.edu)—is already creating discussion groups, of faculty members from McDonnell Academy partner universities, that are exchanging ideas and exploring ways to enhance activities at each university.

“This is a concern that is urgent indeed,” says Fudan University President Shenghong Wang in announcing his institution’s intent to develop a new school of environment and energy. He indicated that the new school would investigate alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen fuel cells and study ways to cut back on campus energy use.

The McDonnell Academy partner universities that sent delegates to the symposium are Middle East Technical University, Ankara; Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok; Peking University and Tsinghua University, both in Beijing; Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa; Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Herzliya; Chinese University of Hong Kong and University of Hong Kong, both in Hong Kong; Bogaziçi University, Istanbul; University of Indonesia, Jakarta; Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai; Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Korea University, Seoul National University, and Yonsei University, all in Seoul; Fudan University, Shanghai; National University of Singapore, Singapore; National Taiwan University, Taipei; and University of Tokyo, Tokyo.

Also attending the free, public symposium were the inaugural cohort of 18 McDonnell Academy Scholars, other graduate and professional students, WUSTL faculty and staff, interested individuals from St. Louis and other communities, and corporate friends. Corporate sponsors included Ameren UE, Arch Coal Inc., Exxon-Mobil, Peabody, and the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

Rick Skwiot is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.