School of Global Environmental Sustainability announces 2018-2019 Global Challenges Research Teams, Resident Fellows

GCRT image SoGES hands
Research proposed by Global Challenges Research Teams shows potential for providing greater understanding towards transformational outcomes for real-world problems.

The School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) at Colorado State University has announced the selection of four Global Challenges Research Teams and six Resident Faculty Fellows from a competitive field of proposals. The awards are intended to encourage interdisciplinary understanding of complex global environmental issues, foster collaborative cross-campus partnerships, and support sustainability research at CSU.

The School funds innovative and interdisciplinary sustainability research that addresses grand challenges, involving faculty members and researchers from across seven colleges within the University.

“CSU’s researchers demonstrate, each year, that multiple disciplines with creative approaches are key to addressing the many facets of sustainability,” says SoGES Director Diana Wall. “We are extremely proud of these teams and look forward to a productive year of innovative sustainability research.”

The Global Challenges Research Teams (GCRT)

  • Developing Innovative Solutions for Human-Bison Coexistence Across North America. Principal Investigators: Ana Davidson, Colorado Natural Heritage Program; Liba Pejchar, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology; Tara Teel, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources; Jennifer Barfield, Department of Biomedical Sciences; and Cynthia Hartway, Wildlife Conservation Society.Bison restoration, a transboundary conservation issue that involves a multitude of diverse stakeholders, is among the most challenging of human-wildlife coexistence issues today in North America. Bison are an iconic and ecologically important species but occupy less than 1 percent of their historic range. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, along with diverse land managers, have identified bison reintroduction as a priority to ensure viable free-roaming populations, restore ecological function, and enhance cultural values. Yet, reintroduction of free-roaming bison is fraught with concerns over the transmission of disease to livestock, competition with cattle for shared forage, genetic integrity, and uncertainty about the ecological impact of bison on arid ecosystems. This GCRT will bring together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners to explore the ecological, economic, and social dimensions of this timely topic and continental-scale challenge and to set an agenda for research and action applicable to the ever-increasing global problem of human-wildlife coexistence.
  • Fort Collins-Urban Sustainability Research Network (USRN). Principal Investigators: Melissa McHale, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; Kelly Curl, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture; Sonali Diddi, Department of Design and Merchandising; Courtenay Daum, Department of Political Science; Paula Yuma, School of Social Work; Edward Gage, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship; Colin Day, Institute for the Built Environment; and Molly Saylor, City of Fort Collins.The Fort Collins Urban Sustainability Research Network (USRN) is developing a platform for enhancing collaboration among the diverse organizations, institutions, and communities dedicated to building a sustainable future for Fort Collins and other cities along the Front Range. Through this platform, the GCRT will develop a systematic approach to the region’s urban research needs and develop comprehensive sustainability goals. This team aims to build capacity among diverse partners and stakeholders to create innovative and equitable place-based solutions that could influence how cities around the globe approach and fund sustainability efforts.
  • Scaling up CSU’s Center for Science Communication: Enhancing Interdisciplinarity to Communicate about Science and Sustainability. Principal Investigators: Ashley Anderson, Joe Champ and Gaya Sivakumar, Department of Journalism and Media Communication; Dawn Thilmany, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics; Ellison Carter, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Laura Bellows, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; and Meena Balgopal, Department of Biology.Confronting today’s most pressing global scientific and sustainability issues, we are faced with the added burden of polarized political, media, and public spheres. To address this challenge, this GCRT will develop and demonstrate interdisciplinary opportunities for the study and practice of science communication and the role of information in decision-making among members of the CSU community. Existing groups on CSU’s campus are engaging in both informal and formal science communication activities, including a Center for Science Communication in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication, as well as projects funded through federal- and university-sponsored grants and cooperative agreements. The GCRT will collaboratively pursue the development of a more formal University-wide center for science communication-related activities.
  • Next-generation Electricity Demand Response. Principal Investigators: Sid Suryanarayanan, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Edwin Chong, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mathematics; and Jesse Burkhardt, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.This GCRT will generate initial results toward development of systematic methods for enabling the next generation of electricity demand response programs, aimed at increasing free-market mechanisms in the end-user realm of the electricity grid. They will investigate new pricing techniques for retail electricity vendors — known as aggregators — that make a profit by representing aggregated electric loads on the end-user side and moving them away from the time of peak demand in the electricity grid. The uniqueness of their work is in minimizing the impact on the customer (things like loss of comfort) while maximizing the profit of the aggregator. The game-changing aspect of their approach is to estimate the coincident peak hour in the system and engage demand response through incentives rather than impose a daily requirement on the end-user.

“We are thankful to the School of Global Environmental Sustainability for selecting our project for this GCRT award,” said Suryanarayanan. “We are excited to begin our work and further our existing collaborations in this area of critical importance to our nation’s electricity grid.”

The SoGES Resident Faculty Fellows

  • Mark Easter, senior research associate in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory — in collaboration with Amy Swan, NREL, and Keith Paustian, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences — is synthesizing decades of field research, computer modeling, site visits, and analysis of food production into the book The Blue Plate: A Food Lover’s Guide to Climate Change. The book will tell the story of the carbon footprint of food on the American plate through the lives of innovative farmers and ranchers implementing cutting-edge techniques to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in American agriculture.
  • Anders Fremstad, assistant professor in the Department of Economics, will study the impact of a carbon tax in Colorado. Placing a price on carbon disproportionately burdens low-income households, but rebating carbon tax revenues in equal dividends can protect the purchasing power of most Coloradans, including the vast majority of residents in the bottom half of the income distribution. This project builds on Fremstad’s national analysis by accounting for Colorado’s expenditure patterns and fuel mix.
  • Troy Ocheltree, assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, aims to quantify the amount of water plants use through time and identify the different strategies plants can use to survive droughts. A key component of this research is identifying how deep the roots of different plants can grow below the ground surface. He plans to develop improved methods to quantify plant rooting depth without the need to dig up roots that can extend more than 10 feet below the soil surface.
  • Marcela Velasco, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, will lead a survey on ethno-territorial governance in a post-conflict society. The work will be completed in collaboration with stakeholders from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia’s Pacific coast, a biodiversity hotspot and the site of recent armed conflict. Velasco aims to help design and oversee the execution of a survey with help from the Jenzerá Working Group, an experienced ethnic rights nongovernmental organization, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders participating in Jenzerá’s “Interethnic School for Conflict Resolution.”
  • Terry Yan, associate professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising, will explore the interest among university faculty and students in potentially incorporating virtual reality technology in apparel and merchandising curricula. Virtual reality features visualization, immersion, and interaction, and allows users, particularly apparel and merchandising students, to see real settings around the world (apparel factories in other countries; rivers polluted by chemicals dyes in India). The ultimate goal of the study is to promote transformative learning among university students in understanding clothing and sustainability.
  • Doug Cloud, assistant professor of Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English, will complete his study of changing representations of scientists in public deliberation surrounding climate change. He is studying how disagreeing parties simultaneously criticize scientists for being “involved” (compromised by money, ideology or politics) and how this characterization might reshape our understanding of the role of scientists and scientific expertise in public policy debate.

“I am thrilled to have been selected as a resident fellow at SoGES,” said Cloud. “I hope my work will further strengthen the cross-disciplinary collaboration that has been a hallmark of our approach to sustainability issues at Colorado State University. Climate change and other related concerns demand much of us, and not merely in the area of technical solutions. We also need to think carefully about how we talk about these issues with public audiences. I spent most of my time in graduate school, and now my early career at CSU, hanging out with atmospheric and other earth scientists. When scholars from the humanities and sciences spend time together thinking through problems, good things happen.”

About the School of Global Environmental Sustainability

The School of Global Environmental Sustainability is at the core of a growing number of exciting sustainability initiatives in research and education at Colorado State University. SoGES serves as a hub to connect CSU’s community of scholars and practitioners interested in applying interdisciplinary perspectives to large-scale environmental, economic, and social questions not easily addressed through traditional approaches. For more information, go to