Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 74.49
Liaison Mary Easterling
Submission Date Dec. 17, 2020

STARS v2.2

Pennsylvania State University
AC-10: Support for Sustainability Research

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Mary Easterling
Assoc Director, Analysis & Assessment
Sustainability Institute
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution have an ongoing program to encourage students in multiple disciplines or academic programs to conduct sustainability research?:

A brief description of the student sustainability research program:

Undergraduate research experiences in general are encouraged at Penn State, and there are a variety of ways that students with an interest in sustainability can get involved. One way is through participation in externally sponsored research competitions, which are mentored by faculty. For example, since 2014 a Penn State student team has competed successfully in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Collegiate Wind Competition, placing 2nd in 2018 and 1st in 2019. https://wind.psu.edu/wind-energy-club/competition-wind-turbine

Another example of a research competition is the Advanced Vehicle Team (AVT), an official student organization of Penn State. In the past, the team has participated in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) hosted by the US Department of Energy and leaders in the automotive industry. These competitions challenge students, from a variety of disciplines, to re-engineer a donated production vehicle and implement innovative solutions to increase fuel economy and decrease emissions. https://www.hev.psu.edu/

Penn State also runs Drawdown Scholars, a summer research experience for undergraduates that focuses on strategies for reversing global warming. Participants work closely with Penn State faculty mentors and their graduate students. The program started in 2019 with over 50 undergraduate researchers for an 8-week residential summer program, and continued in 2020 with 20 students mostly doing remote research for the summer.

Consistent with the "living lab" concept, paid internships with a sustainability focus are offered by the Sustainability Institute, the Office of Physical Plant, and other operational units; these often involve research on a sustainability topic. Student class projects through the Sustainable Communities Collaborative offer additional opportunities for sustainability research experience. Some examples of these living lab projects are described in credit AC-8.

Contracts for sustainability-related projects and initiatives with external partners often stipulate funding for student projects. For example the terms of the 70-MW solar power purchase agreement with Lightsource bp provide funding for student research projects at the site. A smaller solar array at the edge of campus with developer AEDG is involving students in research to improve radiance measurement and measurements on units of solar energy being produced, making them more accurate for solar arrays across the world.

Does the institution have a program to encourage academic staff from multiple disciplines or academic programs to conduct sustainability research?:

A brief description of the faculty sustainability research program:

Penn State's Sustainability Institute established the Reinvention Fund in 2014 to provide seed grant funds to faculty and students for innovative sustainability projects. Since that initial stimulus, seed funding for sustainability research has been less centralized and more distributed, as the desire to encourage sustainability research has spread throughout the University's interdisciplinary research institutes and colleges. Examples of seed grant programs over the past three years include:
- the Institutes for Energy and the Environment (IEE) runs annual seed grant competitions under their thematic foci - all of which have sustainability relevance: Climate and Ecosystem Change, Future Energy Supply, Health and the Environment, Smart Energy Systems, Water and Biogeochemical Cycles;
- the Materials Research (MRI) sponsored a "Materials That Matter at the Human Level" seed grant competition in 2019;
- the MRI and IEE jointly sponsored a seed grant competition, "Materials for Enhancing Energy and Environmental Stewardship" in 2019; and
- the Smeal College of Business offers annual Sustainability Research Grants.
In the last three years, these distributed seed grant programs have invested over $1.5 million to support over 60 new sustainability research projects.

In addition, the Provost provided four rounds of seed grant funding for projects aligned with the University's strategic plan, which includes Stewarding Our Planet's Resources as a thematic priority and Ensuring a Sustainable Future as a foundation. A number of sustainability-related projects received funding under this initiative, including "A Systems Approach for Meeting Local and Global Food-Energy-Water Nexus" and "Greening Our Stormwater" https://strategicplan.psu.edu/rfp/funded-initiatives/

The Sustainability Institute has hosted a number of workshops and events aimed at encouraging faculty research collaborations on sustainability topics. For example, in 2018 the SI hosted a workshop, "Earth Regeneration: Phosphorus in the Environment" sponsored by a corporate partner; in 2019 it hosted an event "Sustainable Pathways for Penn State and Pennsylvania: An Initial Conversation" for faculty, and began a workshop series aimed at promoting transdisciplinary sustainability research at Penn State.

In addition, the SI is currently sponsoring/hosting a faculty Scholar-in-Residence, whose role is to organize a research symposium on a selected sustainability topic (in 2021, Biodiversity) to encourage the formation of inter-/trans-disciplinary research teams. The symposium will be followed by a seed grant competition on the same topic.

In addition to these research funding opportunities, the structure of Penn State's research enterprise is set up to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, notably through its six interdisciplinary research institutes at the University Park campus. https://www.research.psu.edu/capabilities

Has the institution published written policies and procedures that give positive recognition to interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary research during faculty promotion and/or tenure decisions?:

A copy of the promotion or tenure guidelines or policies:
The promotion or tenure guidelines or policies:

Penn State's Administrative Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure state, under the heading of Assessing The Scholarship of Research and Creative Accomplishments, that: "It is expected that units encourage and support collaborative and interdisciplinary research and that units will develop methods to assess these activities." (see Part II,D on page 6)

Does the institution have ongoing library support for sustainability research and learning?:

A brief description of the institution’s library support for sustainability research:

The Penn State University Libraries provide access to a plethora of materials and searchable databases that support sustainability research including GreenFILE, Environment & Energy Newsletters, Ecology Abstracts, and many others. Examples of library resources can be found here:

Website URL where information about the institution’s support for sustainability research is available:

Additional documentation to support the submission:

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