CEE professors to help frame society’s challenges in new campus initiative

2/2/2016 5:15:00 AM

A new campus initiative that gives students a chance to learn about society’s most pressing challenges while fulfilling their General Education requirements will benefit from the expertise of two CEE at Illinois professors. Professors Murugesu Sivapalan and Paolo Gardoni have been invited to be Teaching Fellows for the Grand Challenge Learning program, beginning in Fall 2016.

The Grand Challenge Learning program consists of three multi-disciplinary pathways reflecting topics of concern in today’s world: Health & Wellness, Inequality & Cultural Understanding, and Sustainability, Energy & the Environment. Each pathway will offer a Critical Framings Module—a course designed to bring together professors from multiple disciplines to “critically frame” these grand-scale challenges from a wide range of perspectives. Gardoni and Sivapalan will each teach in a Critical Framings Module: Gardoni for Inequality & Cultural Understanding and Sivapalan for Sustainability, Energy & the Environment.

In their respective modules, the professors will collaborate on a syllabus with other participating faculty and will each contribute 2-3 lectures and assignments which all students in their module will complete. A unique feature of the “module” system is that all faculty participating in a particular module will hear the lecturer of the week along with the students, making it a learning opportunity for everyone involved while enhancing subsequent discussion and furthering the opportunity for cross-college collaboration.

Paolo Gardoni
Paolo Gardoni

Gardoni was nominated to the program for his expertise in reliability and risk assessment, and will help students in the Inequality & Cultural Understanding pathway—which explores the cultural, economic, social and political roots of inequality—understand ways in which the societal impact of failing structures or infrastructure can be quantified in terms of reductions in opportunities available to individuals.

“[S]ocietal impact is a function of pre-existing inequalities in vulnerabilities in the built, natural, economic and social environments,” he said. “Often vulnerable populations are most likely to experience disproportionate losses, higher damage rates and housing losses.”

The Sustainability, Energy & Environment pathway will introduce students to the challenges facing societies as a result of global changes brought about by human activity. Sivapalan, an expert in water resources, believes both students and faculty will benefit from participation in this Critical Framings Module.

“Firstly, students are introduced to the notion of sustainability and its importance early in their education, which helps them to connect much of everything they learn on campus through the prism of sustainability,” he said. “Secondly, through the discussion process that is envisaged the module will help both the students and faculty together to come up with a synthesis that shapes sustainability in broad inter-disciplinary terms.” 

Gardoni agrees that the program will benefit all participants and said that the multi-disciplinary and campus-wide learning provided by the Critical Framing Module program will help the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign be a leader in innovative undergraduate education.

“It is a great honor to be selected to teach in this new and high-profile pilot course,” he added.

Gardoni is director of the MAE Center, co-director of the Societal Risk Management interdisciplinary program and associate director of the NIST Center for Risk-based Community Resilience Planning. His areas of expertise include sustainable and resilient infrastructure; reliability, risk and performance analysis; policies for natural hazard mitigation and disaster recovery; and engineering ethics.

Sivapalan is the Chester and Helen Siess Endowed Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and teaches courses in watershed hydrology, engineering hydrology, stochastic hydrology and water resources engineering. His research focuses on making predictions in ungaged basins, increasingly in the context of human-induced environmental changes.