Water Institute

Water Task Force Establishes Water Institute

Director hiring is underway

A strategic plan released on Nov. 20 by the Water Task Force proposes a comprehensive water program for Penn State. Penn State has a long tradition of excellence in the water sciences, with many leading experts known for high-impact work in a wide spectrum of water-related fields. Despite this, Penn State is not widely recognized as a leader in water sciences.

Early in 2013, the Vice President of Research charged the Water Task Force with developing a plan to enhance the water programs at Penn State. The Water Task Force’s resulting report begins to strategically assess the university’s water research stakeholders and assets, which include more than 100 researchers, dozens of active programs and host of synergistic relationships across Penn State.

“This report is just the first step toward strengthening the community of scholars working in this area. I am fully committed to this process, and firmly believe that if we work together, Penn State can achieve its potential as a global leader in water research, education and outreach,” said Tom Richard, Director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Penn State University.

The Water Task Force solicited input from faculty, staff and students interested in water, assessed current capabilities and identified areas where the University can leverage expertise to achieve new levels of excellence in the water-related sciences. The goal is to see Penn State recognized as a regional and global leader in hydrologic science and water resources--on issues ranging from science and engineering, to decision-making, water policy, and human interactions with the environment.

The Strategic Plan recommends that the University establish the water program by coordinating water research, education, and outreach across the University. Such a program would incubate exciting advances in water science, technology and knowledge linked with a world-class education, preparing the leaders of tomorrow.

Key recommendations include the targeted hiring of tenure-track faculty, seed funding for new water research, establishing an inter-departmental graduate program, and enhancing the university’s connections to internal and external water stakeholders and organizations via a new Web portal and community. Through development of an identity for the water program at PSU, the University will achieve enhanced visibility in the public and governmental spheres, secure large grant support and better attract and retain highly talented students, educators and researchers.

The plan would focus investment in four research areas: Water Quality, Quantity, and Human Health; Watershed Dynamics: Fluxes from Continent to Ocean; Water and Ecosystems; and Water and Global Environmental Change. Challenges lie ahead in securing water resources for a growing human population while maintaining health of the natural environment. The most effective outcomes of water research, education and outreach will require an integrated, multi-disciplinary and comprehensive program.

“I want to share my deep gratitude to the members of the Task Force: Mike Gooseff, Iliana Baums, Beth Boyer, Larry Gorenflo and Demian Saffer. This outstanding group of faculty developed a process to assess and engage the full breadth of water-related activities across our university, holding three town-hall meetings last spring and circulating a draft report in August. The draft report generated enthusiasm and detailed comments from dozens of faculty, all of which were carefully considered and are reflected in this final report,” Richard said.

The report was delivered to interim Vice President of Research Neil Sharkey, who met with the Water Task Force members and has begun discussions with Provost Nick Jones about the implementation plan.

“I am hopeful that the recommendations of this report will be reflected in the department and college strategic plans that many of you are now helping to develop. Help us build a collective vision for the future of water excellence at Penn State,” Richard said.

Input from interested stakeholders is welcome. Water Task Force updates will be available at the PSIEE Website at www.psiee.psu.edu. The complete Strategic Plan is also available for download, and appendices of the Strategic Plan include a list of Penn State faculty, staff and partners with water expertise and a list of water-related courses at the university.