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ODU’s Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute Receives Training Award to Build Conservation Leaders

Under a unique partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Old Dominion University's Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI) is helping train the next generation of conservation leaders.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed earlier this year, will seek to apply different facets of Old Dominion University expertise to grow conservation leaders and promote a multidisciplinary climate change and sea level rise research agenda.

The collaboration's first project, entitled "Building Conservation Leaders for the Future: Curriculum, Certificates, Service-Learning, Internships and Research Agenda," was launched this summer with funding of $110,000 for the first year. Peter Lawrence of Old Dominion's Office of Development was engaged in facilitating the MOU

The project is being carried out by MARI in collaboration with Old Dominion's Center for Service and Civic Engagement in the Office of Leadership & Student Involvement, School of Public Service, and the Colleges of Sciences, Education, Health Sciences and Arts and Letters.

"This is an exciting collaboration that brings together expertise from across campus," said Hans-Peter Plag, professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences and MARI director.

"Because of its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the challenges of climate change and sea level rise, MARI was found uniquely qualified by FWS to collaborate on activities that will lay the basis for a long-term, sustainable program of service learning, internships, and adaptive leadership training in conservation."

The collaboration will also include the establishment at Old Dominion of an interdisciplinary minor in Conservation Leadership which allows students to choose six credit hours from among courses in Communications; Biology; Environmental Health; Geography; Parks, Recreation and Tourism; Political Science and Public Affairs and Service.

A unique aspect of the minor is that students are required to engage in at least one service-learning class, which will provide real-world experience with diverse conservation issues in our communities.

Besides Plag, other Old Dominion University team members involved with the collaboration with FWS include Emily Eddins, Old Dominion director of service-learning; John Morris, professor and chair of the School of Public Service; Eddie Hill, assistant professor of Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies; Michael Allen, assistant professor of Political Science and Geography; Tatyana Lobova, senior lecturer of Biological Sciences, and Elizabeth Smith, Interdisciplinary Initiatives administrator.

Specific activities in the initial project include:

  • Developing conservation-related undergraduate, graduate and continuing education certificates, including leadership certificates, with a strong focus on required job qualifications for conservation and environmental fields as part of the federal workforce and international development agencies, including future leaders and the continuing education of current leaders;
  • Defining and implementing a service-learning program that includes service at FWS facilities as part of the course work and integrating service-learning components into the curricula for the certificates;
  • Developing an internship program that will assist the FWS to recruit students for employment opportunities that provide practical work experience in conservation biology and knowledge of administrative support functions; and
  • Co-designing a research agenda with the FWS to meet the practice-relevant knowledge needs arising from the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the federal work carried out by the Service.

MARI was established in 2013 by ODU with Plag as director to engage in research that produces the practice-relevant knowledge needed to cope with the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the coastal zone and in particular, the urban coast. MARI responds to the knowledge needs of a wide range of community stakeholders, including government, military, private sector, and citizens.

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