|Research and strategic partnerships for a more prosperous region|
|Tuesday, 23 November 2010 14:03|
Sponsored by Portland State University
How do we build a stronger, more prosperous region? This is one of the fundamental challenges that spurs research and partnerships at Portland State University.
Whether it’s greening our built environment, improving the prospects for all citizens, or preserving the ecosystems that support an increasingly urban region, Portland State researchers are building the blocks that form more resilient communities, while finding opportunities to apply local solutions to urbanizing areas worldwide.
PSU’s growing emphasis on research, topping $58 million in expenditures for the 2010 academic year, has helped transform the University into an incubator for innovation and exploration. And by building on the distinct character of our location and legacy, we’re establishing Oregon’s leading urban research university as one of the nation’s best.
This fall, Jonathan Fink joined PSU as its first vice president for research and strategic partnerships. A national leader in the development of interdisciplinary research initiatives, Fink is tasked with shepherding the University to its goal of generating over $100 million in research annually.
It’s a task for which he is well suited. As vice president for research at Arizona State University, Fink oversaw the tripling of external funding, the launching of internationally recognized institutes in sustainability and biodesign, and stronger ties between academic research and regional economic development.
Located in the heart of one of the nation’s most livable cities, it’s no surprise that Portland State University researchers employ the urban environment as both classroom and living laboratory.
The Green Building Research Laboratory, led by mechanical and materials engineering professor David Sailor, provides both fundamental and applied support for the green building industry, bringing together a suite of facilities and researchers from the fields of engineering, architecture, and urban studies.
PSU researchers are also pursuing low-carbon solutions to the world’s growing energy needs through the study of photovoltaic materials, wind arrays, storage innovations and more.
Transportation studies at PSU reflect the multiple modes that traverse the city — from foot traffic and bicycles, to buses, light rail, autos and freight — and span everything from driver behavior to materials and green infrastructure. PSU is also home to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC), a federally funded national University Transportation Center that brings together faculty from Oregon universities to address and advocate for sustainable transportation solutions.
Building social capital
A core tenet of creating prosperous, sustainable communities is that the benefits must extend to all citizens. Through graduate training programs in social work and education, PSU has a long-standing commitment to promoting equity for the region’s residents, regardless of income, ethnicity or other potential socio-economic barriers.
The School of Social Work’s Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures, supported by a five-year, $4 million federal grant, is dedicated to improving the lives of young people who have serious mental health conditions as they transition into adulthood. One research project within the Pathway RTC is developing ways to help young people in foster care enter higher education or vocational training programs to increase their self-sufficiency as adults.
Mentoring is widely accepted as an effective method for passing along knowledge and support — whether in the workplace, at universities, or as a youth development tool. PSU’s Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research digs deeper to discern what works and what doesn’t in the broad range of mentoring placements. Through partnerships with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Oregon Mentors, and others, PSU is helping to better align good intentions with positive outcomes.
The Portland State Business Accelerator is home to nearly two dozen startup technology and science companies, many of which are committed to business as a tool for solving social and environmental challenges. Companies receive a range of services from PSU that help them bridge the gap from concept to capital.
An early-stage success story is APDM, a spin-off medical research technology firm begun by PSU electrical engineering professor James McNames. The company’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. In collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon Institute of Technology, APDM has developed the world’s most advanced movement monitor. No larger than a wristwatch, this wearable tool records even the most subtle movements, enabling researchers to create better treatment plans.
To understand the impact of urbanization, look to the natural resources that surround and support metropolitan areas.
The new Ecosystem Services for Urbanizing Regions program is designed to do just that. Beginning in fall 2011, the program will train doctoral students from more than half a dozen disciplines to develop sustainable solutions that balance the rising resource demands of urban areas with the declining capacity of natural systems to support their populations. The National Science Foundation’s prestigious Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program provided $3 million to launch the program.
A solar panel-eco roof installation at Portland State provides data on how these green technologies might boost overall energy production and conservation when combined.
A related urban ecology effort at PSU will compare Portland and Vancouver — two cities in the same metro region, but under very different local, regional, and state governance and land-use policies. An interdisciplinary team, led by environmental science professor Alan Yeakley and funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Forest Service, will look at development over the past 30 years, with a particular focus on the ecological implications of the presence and absence of growth boundaries around the region’s cities.
While Portland State University’s location provides unparalleled opportunities to assess challenges and opportunities in the context of the Pacific Northwest, many lessons can be drawn by related work undertaken through research and training partnerships around the world.
Over the past 10 years, the College of Urban and Public Affairs’ PSU-China Innovations in Urbanization program has hosted over 500 officials from China’s Ministry of Land Resources, representing nearly every province, to learn about the Portland region’s experiences in sustainable land use planning. Through these types of global exchanges, researchers develop effective strategies for managing rapid growth of metropolitan areas while protecting natural resources around the world.