HOUGHTON - Their areas of study are very different, and that is exactly why students from Michigan Technological University and Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La. are working together to solve sustainability issues.
A National Science Foundation-funded program called Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, run by Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute, has brought Southern public policy and Tech engineering graduate students together to collaborate on research projects.
This week, three students and two faculty members from Southern came to Houghton to share their experiences and research with 15 Michigan Tech students. During the trip, they did sight-seeing and gave presentations on their work.
Layla Aslani/Daily Mining Gazette
Participants in the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program pose for a picture together after lunch Wednesday at Michigan Technological University’s campus. The program brings graduate students from Tech and Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La. to work together on sustainability research projects. The students take turns visiting each other’s campus during the year, with Southern students spending the past week at Tech.
Last spring, eight Michigan Tech students spent two weeks on Southern's campus.
John Sutherland, current director of the Sustainable Futures Institute, said since the program started in 2004, approximately 60 students have worked individually and in groups on challenges such as the development of indicators for societal sustainability and the processing of forest biomass to create biofuels. He noted that some students who have since graduated are still collaborating with people they met through the program.
He said the program's projects vary, but all have a common goal.
"We want to pursue initiatives that ensure that we have the opportunity for future generations to enjoy the same economic, environmental and societal benefits that we enjoy today," he said.
The disciplines are not the only category in which the schools complement each other. Sutherland noted Tech is rural while Southern is urban and that Southern is a historically black school. He said through visits to each other's campus, the students have learned about more than other academic worlds. For example, he noted Southern students have tried pasties, while Tech students have had jambalaya.
Cory McDonald, an environmental engineering student, said he is working with a student from Southern on policy analysis of surface water quality.
He said the program has shown him the bigger picture of how decisions are made.
"Working with public policy students gives us a policy perspective, which really drives engineering decisions," he said.
Southern student Jayanthi Sothirajah said she is writing a paper with two Michigan Tech students that contrasts steel recycling policies in Europe and the United States.
"We want to look at if its economically viable to use recycled steel (rather than) virgin steel," she said.
Sothirajah said she brings her insight on policies to the paper, while Michigan Tech students analyze the recycling process to determine how much energy is used.
This is the final year of IGERT's $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant. The program has been invited to submit a renewal proposal and Sutherland said the schools hope to continue working together in the future.
Layla Aslani can be reached at laslani@ mininggazette.com.