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Environmental Center Selects New Name

environmentalresearch.jpegUNF’s Environmental Center never rented kayaks. Nor did the staff bring elementary school children to campus for environmental education. Yet, that’s what many people in the community thought.

Dr. Erin Largo-Wight, Center director and professor of Public Health, said there were many misconceptions. “What we actually were doing was raising money for research grants, managing the Environmental Leadership Program and working on academic curriculum,” she said. “So, the name was not representative of what we did, and it was limiting us from getting support from the community.”

To move perception closer to reality, she and the staff explored the option of a name change. After a lengthy process of talking with stakeholders — from faculty to students to community partners to donors — and creating a lengthy list of possible names, one name emerged as the overwhelming choice: Institute of Environmental Research and Education.

Assistant Director James Taylor believes the new name more accurately reflects what they do now and what they plan to do in the future. “We really want to be the place the campus community can come to for environmental research and collaboration, environmental academic offerings and student internships,” Taylor said. “We’ll be trying to attract more resources and provide more support to faculty and students from all six colleges in the areas of research and education.”

The Environmental Center was founded 17 years ago by Dr. Raymond Bowman, professor emeritus of chemistry. It originated as an outbranch of the College of Arts and Sciences and reported to the dean. In 2014, with the selection of a new faculty director from the Department of Building and Construction, Dr. Dave Lambert, the Center was moved to Academic Affairs, where it remains today and reports to the AVP of Research.

The new name also reflects a recent shift in focus over the past few years. It has transitioned to more academic initiatives and began offering an environmental minor in 2020. In addition, Largo-Wight said that James Taylor has been developing a mini course or self-run module called Sustainability 101 that they will offer to faculty this fall. “It will be available to any faculty member who wants to increase their students’ activity and learning in environmental education,” she said.

The newly named Institute also has become an important resource for internships and environmental projects with community partners. It continues to offer the Environmental Leadership Program, which has grown significantly over the years and provides leadership training and real-world project learning for students of all majors. The Institute also works to tie programming to one of two metrics: retention and engagement as well as professional development and graduate school readiness.

“So, these programs have sort of refined and grown in terms of their focus and strategic outcomes,” Largo-Wight said. “We’re trying to support students and provide opportunities for curriculum and serve as a support unit for faculty and research on the environment.”

Learn more about the Institute’s initiatives.