Vivek Shandas


Professor Vivek Shandas specializes developing strategies for addressing the implications of climate change on cities. His teaching and research examine the intersection of exposure to climate-induced events, governance processes, and planning mechanisms. As an interdisciplinary scholar, Dr. Shandas studies the emergent characteristics that generate vulnerability among communities and infrastructure. Theoretically, he views cities as grand experiments that are socially constructed, and can vary in their capacities to adapt to changing social and ecological conditions. Empirically, Dr. Shandas examines the human and planetary forces that facilitate (or inhibit) collective response. As such the broad aims of his teaching and research are to identify threats to planetary habitation, and shape landscapes to improve urban environmental quality. He teaches courses in environmental planning, participatory geographic information systems (GIS), and climate adaptation. 

As the Founder and Director of the Sustaining Urban Places Research (SUPR), he brings a policy-relevant approach to research, including the evaluation of environmental stressors on human health, developing of indicators and tools to improve decision making, and the construction of frameworks to guide the growth of urban regions. Over the past several years, research from the SUPR Lab has appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine, National Public Radio, Washington Post, Minnesota Public Broadcasting, NY Times, Qatar Times, and several other national and international media. 

Two current and major projects inOn the Executive Committee and Portland co-lead for the National Science Foundation-sponsored, Urban Resilience to Climate Extremes (UREx), he conducts research to understand how cities can transition into more sustainable futures. As a researcher on the UREx project he addresses urban heat as it impacts society, technological, and ecosystems, by examining how different cities and communities cope with extreme heat stress. As the Principle Investigator for the Canopy Continuum project, Dr. Shandas works with the U.S. Forest Service, and State and County health departments to research how trees improve birth outcomes by mediating urban heat and air quality. Dr. Shandas has written articles on water quality and use, climate justice, air quality, and interdisciplinary education for diverse publications including Urban Geography, Journal of the American Planning Association, Landscape and Urban Planning, BioScience, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Urban Climate, Journal of Environmental Management, and several other international journals. 
Early in his career, Dr. Shandas was an outdoor school teacher in Vernonia, Oregon under the camp name “Chickadee.” He learned the value of bringing students into the field to explore the connections between human health and ecosystem integrity. He developed a watershed curriculum for San Jose, California, which brought city kids to explore the natural environment by testing local water quality and contributing to a national watershed campaign. The San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum adopted this curriculum, translated it into Spanish, and still uses it today. As a health and environmental policy analyst for the New York Governor’s Office, Dr. Shandas grew fascinated with the brokering of information to make policy decisions. He pursued his doctorate to improve the quality of information that ultimately informs environmental and community health policy.

During his doctorate studies, Dr. Shandas received the prestigious Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) fellowship with the National Science Foundation to help develop the field of urban ecology. As an IGERT fellow at the University of Washington, Dr. Shandas had the opportunity to travel to conferences and meet his intellectual mentors including E.O. Wilson, Nancy Grimm, Mark McDonald, Robert Costanza, and Elinor Ostrom. After joining PSU faculty in 2005, Dr. Shandas worked tirelessly with several faculty to apply and successfully win an IGERT program on Ecosystem Services for Urbanizing Regions (ESUR), which, upon its conclusion in 2017 trained over 35 PhD students. Dr. Shandas approaches teaching through problem-based inquiry. He asks students to identify a pressing community problem and the skills and knowledge needed to evaluate that problem. Students work collaboratively to test their ideas and develop workable solutions. By connecting students to problems of real consequence, he makes learning relevant and engaging. 

Urban ecosystem services, development patterns and environmental impacts, water and air quality, environmental stewardship and engagement, decision-making processes and the role of knowledge and information, stormwater management

What Professor Shandas has to say...

BEST PARTS OF JOB: Working in teams to enable the free flow of ideas that can help to improve the health of our landscapes and communities.

ON TEACHING IN PORTLAND: The long history of contributing to the region has allowed me to bring into the classroom and research efforts examples of connecting scholarly pursuits to social and environmental change. 

VISION FOR THE TOULAN SCHOOL: I strive to bring fields of climate change and urban adaptation into urban and regional planning.

HOW I FIT INTO THAT VISION: My work is inherently collaborative. I bring practitioners into the classroom and research projects in the community. 

APPROACH TO TEACHING: Systematic, problem-based, interdisciplinary, accessible. I think of myself as a facilitator for learning and sharing ideas. I encourage collaboration among students to focus on, analyze, and discuss specific problems related to the urban environment.

ON INTERACTING WITH STUDENTS: I like testing, through creative exercises, our pre-conceived notions about human behavior and environmental processes; helping to organize the way we think about complex problems; and channeling our collective curiosity and enthusiasm to address social and environmental change. 

FAVORITE URBAN PLACES: My favorite urban setting are those that are incomprehensible, specifically ‘mega-cites’ or those of the largest cities that have ever existed. These intrigue me because I wonder how do we engage people at these scales?

FAVORITE NON-URBAN PLACES: Old growth forests and mountainous peaks have always drawn my interest. Examples include the northern Cascades, the Adirondacks, K2 and Annapurna in the Himalayas, and mountain lakes. 

  • PhD
    University of Washington, Seattle