CORPUS CHRISTI — Seven Texas universities, including four in The Texas A&M University System and two in The University of Texas System, are teaming up to form a research, educational and engagement network to provide sustainability-related science to South Texas policymakers and communities.
The Research Coordination Network CE3SAR (Climate, Energy, Environment and Engagement in Semiarid Regions) will capitalize on and coordinate related work at research centers and institutes at Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas A&M International University, the University of Texas-Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and Texas State University.
Luis Cifuentes, associate vice president for research and scholarly activity and dean of graduate studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, is the principal investigator for the endeavor.
Jorge Vanegas, dean of Texas A&M’s College of Architecture and director of its Center for Housing and Urban Development (CHUD), is one of the co-principal investigators. He will facilitate charrettes — short, intense strategic brainstorming sessions — with network members to create a five-year strategic plan to meet specific goals. Also, he will facilitate the network’s connections with South Texas’ colonias and community leaders and direct the network’s international partnerships.
Funded by a five-year $750,000 National Science Foundation grant, the research-coordination network will focus on the effects of changes during the next 20 years in the region’s climate, energy production and environment in the region as well as the impact these changes will have on the area’s burgeoning Hispanic population, the network’s leaders noted. They said special emphasis will be placed on assessing the availability and use of water in the semiarid region.
“The research network will significantly increase the focus on sustainability among South Texas academic institutions and lead to partnerships with federal and state agencies, industry, nongovernment organizations, community and regional organizations,” Cifuentes said.
CHUD, with its strong presence in South Texas and a “distinguished history of work in sustainability,” will be a key contributor to the network, he added.
“Climate change, population increases, changes in energy sources and other human impacts such as pollution and civil infrastructure are expected to have profound effects on South Texas,” the CE3SAR RCN leaders stated in their research proposal. “In addition to affecting the availability and quality of water, wildlife, fisheries, agriculture and air quality, land availability will also be affected.”
These changes, they explained, will have complex social, economic, political and health impacts. While many of these effects have been studied separately, decisions by policy makers and communities must take into account complex interactions of all of these factors.
“Science too often fails to provide the concrete information that policy makers and their communities need to make critical decisions,” they observed in the proposal. “South Texas has been historically underserved and isolated in terms of resources to support and advance regional research and education critical to the future of the predominantly Hispanic population.”
Adopting this new approach is imperative, the researchers emphasized, because scientists must work across disciplinary lines to generate the integrated, comprehensive knowledge required to shed light on the complex issues South Texas faces and to conduct scenario planning, the proposal writers added. They said the objective is “to establish a robust, mature and sustainable regional network” of researchers in universities, centers and institutes to:
• Successfully translate sustainability science issues related to climate, energy and environment to various scales — individual to regional — advancing consensus-based engagement by its predominantly Hispanic and diverse regional populations, cultures and institutions;
• Better communicate and coordinate research efforts across disciplinary and institutional domains, engage new researchers in the network and train and engage students in research;
• Develop research and educational partnerships to be competitive for collaborative research grants funded by federal and state agencies, foundations and private industry, particularly center-level research grants;
• Engage undergraduate and graduate students in network research, develop new curricula, promote student research in sustainability science, and disseminate research information to the public; and
• Establish a more nuanced understanding of the intersection of sustainability research and implementation in predominantly Hispanic South Texas with the socioeconomic, cultural and historic factors that significantly influence acceptance.