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Smithsonian Institution, ASU announce partnership

By

Margaret Coulombe

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has joined Arizona State University in an innovative education and science partnership aimed at sustaining a biodiverse planet. On Feb. 12, Secretary Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian, and ASU President Michael M. Crow launched a global classroom – with one foot in Arizona’s Sonoran desert and the other in the tropical landscapes of Panama.

The partnership will create opportunities for ASU undergraduates, graduate students and faculty to participate in fieldwork at Smithsonian facilities in Panama, as well as for the development of virtual global classrooms that center on current research in tropical ecosystems. Smithsonian scientists also will participate in ASU degree programs.

“The Smithsonian looks forward to partnering with Arizona State to advance the goals of its new strategic plan which seeks to enhance collaborative, interdisciplinary scientific enterprise and excellence in education,” Clough said.

 “Arizona State University shares the Smithsonian's goals and commitments to education, public service and the advancement of collaborative scientific engagement,” Crow said. “The new venture will foster critical thinking and intellectual growth of our students, in addition to extending the creation and application of new knowledge and engagement of our students, faculty and staff with the surrounding world.” 

Academic emphasis of the new program will be on sustainability measured by studies of ecosystem services, including insect behavior and social structure in changing environments, biofuels and new world-wide Web-based approaches to taxonomy.

The first research program funded by the joint venture “marries Smithsonian expertise and data on the effects of changes in forest cover on ecosystem function with ASU expertise on the economics of ecosystem services,” said ASU’s Ann Kinzig, one of the study leaders and a professor in the School of Life Sciences, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The research will focus on the ecosystem services managed forests deliver to the Panama Canal and their importance to global commerce.

Eldredge Bermingham, director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Robert E. Page, Jr., dean of the ASU School of Life Sciences, will co-direct the new program and note: “This is a natural partnership given our shared emphasis on sustainability and biodiversity studies. Through this partnership, we will build joint research projects and will learn from one another in a global classroom.”

“The health of the world and its inhabitants is a moving target," Crow said. "Our educational programs must be structured to meet that challenge. The Smithsonian is the largest research and museum complex in the world. Our exchange of experts and shared classrooms can and will catalyze learning and discovery, globally.”

“This is an exciting and significant collaboration for ASU,” said Elizabeth Capaldi, executive dean and provost of the university. “We are inspired by the many possibilities that exist within these projects to bring about lasting ecological and economic solutions in areas where some of our greatest challenges lie. Our students and faculty will benefit in countless ways from this partnership with the Smithsonian.”