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Q & A with newly appointed ISS Director Jennifer Allen
Author: Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: May 16, 2012

Last month the Provost named Jennifer Allen the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) at Portland State University. Allen, Associate Professor of Public Administration and one of the region’s foremost leaders in sustainability, has hit the ground running.

What are some of your first priorities now that you've been named Director?

I have been meeting with our deans, vice provosts, department chairs and others to identify how we can better connect sustainability efforts with the University’s overarching goals. We are exploring how our sustainability programs can attract and retain top students, how we can continue to engage our alumni with sustainability interests, and how our research areas can position Portland State for global excellence.

We are also talking with key community partners to further explore solutions to regional sustainability issues and connect our faculty and students with these community-based efforts. I’d like to see ISS advance “collective impact” initiatives that have been successful in other communities. The local STEM initiative is a great example of this type of effort.

The other major priority is to ramp up our efforts to secure additional funding to support and advance our work. The Miller Foundation gift to Portland State was intended to help us grow our resources, and we need to invest these funds in ways that position us to bring in the level of external resources we need to meet our potential.

How do you see campus units coming together around sustainability?

The Institute for Sustainable Solutions is working with University Studies, the Honors program, the McNair Scholars program, the Career Center, and many others to create compelling, integrated undergraduate pathways in sustainability. By dovetailing our academic programs with co-curricular activities, internships, research, and study abroad, we hope to ensure our students gain the skills they need to achieve their personal and professional goals. We are also working closely with the Campus Sustainability Office to expand the opportunities for students to engage in applied learning right here on our campus. This is just one example of how we can leverage our efforts toward a common goal that serves our students well.

What will be the best opportunities for students to get involved in sustainability in the coming terms?

Our Sustainability Leadership Center (SLC), under the leadership of Heather Spalding, has done a terrific job in recent years creating opportunities for students to engage in sustainability at PSU. Within the SLC, students have the opportunity to join the Sustainability Volunteer Program, EcoReps, or Student Sustainability Leadership Council, and can participate in events such as National Sustainability Education Week, Social Sustainability Month, Earth Week, and the Solutions Generator program that funds student ideas to make campus and community more sustainable.

We are also exploring a “pathways to green careers” initiative, building on the strong program the Career Center has developed to host internships and integrate professional development opportunities into our curriculum. ISS seeks to deepen and leverage those partnerships to empower more students to make their way towards a green career.

How can departments get involved with sustainability goals?

The Institute for Sustainable Solutions is providing leadership and support to advance research in three core focal areas: urban sustainability, ecosystem services, and social determinants of health. We have faculty from across the University involved in sustainability research in these areas, and I encourage anyone interested in these issues to get in touch with ISS.

We have also put out a call to departments interested in expanding their sustainability related curriculum and will be working over the coming years to strengthen specific degree programs. I’d  be glad to meet with departments to explore how they can get involved.

Where do you see PSU's sustainability efforts going in the next decade and beyond?

I would like Portland State to play a more prominent leadership role in developing collaborative partnerships—both on campus and off—to address priority sustainability issues in the Portland region and beyond. PSU can also be a model in higher education by developing strong institutional relationships between our academic efforts and our campus operations, fostering innovation in both arenas. I’m excited about the opportunities we have to contribute to the sustainability of this region and to become a recognized leader—nationally and internationally—in deeply relevant sustainability education and research.