Dr. Rebecca Powell has been affiliated with CEES almost from its inception. She was one of the initial post-doctoral researchers working for the Center, and served as a Research Assistant Professor in Biology. She also held the title of Leopold Fellow in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Currently, Dr. Powell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver. We followed up with Dr. Powell about her time with CEES and the challenges facing our world today.
1) What was one of your best experiences while working at Wake Forest?
The best part of my experience at Wake Forest was being part of an intellectual community with faculty and other researchers who energetically pursued basic science questions in ecology/biodiversity/biogeography, while at the same time exploring the implications of human actions on the biosphere and actively engaging with the broader community.
2) What classes / programs / research are you working on now?
I teach classes on remote sensing theory and applications (my area of research). I also teach undergraduate classes on environmental sustainability that engage students in sustainability efforts on campus. I am also very interested in the role of higher education in sustainability leadership. I am co-chair of the University of Denver Sustainability Council and work closely with the DU Center for Sustainability to integrate campus operations with student learning and engagement.
My research currently involves several projects that I initiated during my time at CEES, including (i) the impact land-cover change in the Brazilian floodplain on fisheries, (ii) understanding the role of spatial processes in woody cover distribution in East African savannas, and (iii) characterizing the relationship between vegetation canopy temperature and ecosystem processes and patterns.
3) What do you think is the most pressing issue facing humanity in regards to the environment?
There are so many pressing issues that it is hard for me to claim a single issue as most important — but I think that climate change is an issue that integrates earth system processes with human activities across spatial scales. Local actions impact global processes and require global-scale solutions. While the challenges we face can be quite daunting, we also now have the opportunity to think consciously about what kind of world we want to live in — and to leave for our children.
4) How do you think centers like CEES fit into the solution for the problems we face?
I think that CEES — and similar centers in university settings — provide a space to bring together multiple players and thinkers in order to address some of the complex environmental and social problems we currently face. CEES facilitates interactions across disciplines, still a daunting task at most universities. Centers like CEES also provide a platform for engaging to public — both to share information and to foster dialog about important issues. And, finally, centers like CEES train students to work with a diverse team of people on solving complex and important problems.