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Community for Global Health Equity Website is Live!

The Community for Global Health Equity is pleased to announce their new website!

Dr. Samina Raja is a co-lead of CGHE, along with Dr. Pavani Ram, Dr. Kory Smith, Dr. Li Lin, Dr. Lisa Vahapoglu, and Jessica Scates.

The Community for Global Health Equity (CGHE) supports those who most influence global health—leaders, organizations and policy makers who can affect systemic change and community members around the world who can inspire, promote and implement solutions in their respective neighborhoods.

CGHE is a scholarly community with an aim to improve people’s lives around the world.

To become a leader of community-driven, university-based transformational change, we bring together scholars in health sciences and Architecture, Planning, Engineering, and other cross-synergizing disciplines (APEX) to:

  • Advance foundational science to develop innovative, low-cost solutions to improve health equity
  • Develop innovative solutions to overcome socio-cultural barriers to optimal health and well-being
  • Build and sustain relationships with and contribute critical guidance to policy-making organizations to improve global health equity
  • Improve the dissemination of equity-promoting practices of implementation organizations
  • Demonstrate impact through projects that improve the health and well-being of target communities
  • Train students to develop the expertise to work effectively in interdisciplinary teams and to contribute to research, engagement and implementation activities that advance global health equity

Our solution-oriented, transdisciplinary approach seeks to contribute forward-thinking approaches to promote health equity across the globe.

Sewerage to Sanitation: Opportunities and Challenges for Water, Cities, and Planning in India [Nov. 20]

The Community for Global Health Equity is  pleased to present ‘Sewerage to Sanitation: Opportunities and Challenges for Water, Cities, and Planning in India’ on November 20th at 5:30pm at 02 Diefendorf Hall on UB’s South Campus.   Dr. Suresh Rohilla, from the Center for Science and Environment, will speak on water and wastewater management of 71 cities from different agro-climatic regions in India that present both challenges and opportunities for urban planners and designers.   Indian cities are transforming rapidly in response to emerging science as well as national policy action. Join us for a conversation about public health, climate change, energy security and local imperatives of sustainable development in India.



World On Your Plate Conference at Daemen College, Oct. 9-10

Daemen College, in Buffalo, will be hosting their 12th annual World on Your Plate Conference on Food and Sustainable Living on October 9-10th.  The two day conference will feature several events, including featured speakers Jonathan Bloom and Rowen White. Jonathan will be speaking on “The Food Not Eaten”, detailing why America wastes so much food and what we can do about it. Rowen White will be presenting “Seeds – Components to Our Future Sustainability”.  Several other workshops, presentations, and entertainment will be happening throughout the conference.  To register and find out more information, please visit the conference website.

Food Lab Members to Present at ACSP Conference in October

Several members of the Food Lab will be presenting their research at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning’s annual conference in Houston, TX from October 22-25th.

  • Nate Attard will be presenting, “Exploring Second Trip Patterns: An Analysis of Travel at Work in Portland”.
  • Dr. So Ra Baek will be presenting, “Cultural Factors Influencing Parents’ Decision on Children’s Active Commuting to School: Implications for Safe Routes to School Programs”.
  • Dr. Bumjoon Kang will be presenting, “Identifying Potential Participants in the Walking School Bus Program”.
  • Subhashni Raj will be presenting “Planning’s Legitimacy: Exploring Amartya Sen’s Conceptualization of Freedom in Affirming the Role of Planning as Enabling Freedoms” as well as participating in a round table discussion, “Culturing Established Food Systems in a ‘Food Desert'”.
  • Dr. Samina Raja will be moderating a round table discussion, “Food Systems Planning: Do Rural Areas Deserve Special Attention?”. She will also be presenting “Over-Regulation and Under-investment: Planners’ Response to Communities’ Efforts to Strengthen Food Systems”.
  • Jenny Whittaker will be presenting, “Food Insecurity in Farm Country: Use of Public Policy to Overcome the Rural Paradox”.

Please click here to see sessions at the conference featuring the work of early career scholars and graduate students from many universities who focus on the link between planning, food systems, and health.

Growing Food Connections will also be hosting a Food Systems Planning Networking Event at the conference on Friday, October 23rd, from 6:00pm – 8:00pm at the MKT Bar at Phoenicia Foods, 1001 Austin St., Houston, TX, 77010.  Please join us for an informal gathering of planning faculty, students, and practitioners interested in the linkages between planning and food systems.  Please confirm your attendance by emailing Subhashni Raj at We look forward to seeing you there!

UB Announces Critical Conversations Keynote Address on Global Health

University at Buffalo’s third annual Critical Conversations presidential programs will feature the topic of global health.  The program highlights two events happening on the school campus.  A panel discussion on diverse perspectives to address global health challenges will take place on Thursday, Oct. 22nd at 12:30pm in Harriman Hall.  The next day, a keynote address by John Borrazzo will focus on ending preventable child and maternal deaths.  The keynote address will take place on Friday, Oct. 23, at 2:30pm in the Student Union Theater. Both events are free and open to the public.

Critical Conversations is intended to be a vital forum for timely, insightful dialogue about key issues shaping the world around us. The program spotlights prominent scholars who are leading the conversation about major societal questions with broad-ranging, cross-disciplinary relevance and impact. From global health concerns and contemporary cultural debates to technological trends and socioeconomic challenges, the topics cut across disciplinary boundaries and geographic borders to shape daily life for us all. Held each academic year during the fall semester, Critical Conversations features a keynote address, free and open to the public, as well as multiple opportunities for students, faculty, staff and others to interact with these distinguished visitors.

Featured guest John Borrazzo is the director of the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Division at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Bureau for Global Health in Washington, D.C. He joined USAID in 1992 as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Policy Fellow, focused on reducing exposure to air pollution and toxic substances in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Egypt. Prior to his appointment as MCH division chief in 2008, he was USAID’s environmental health team leader serving countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Pre-registration is recommended for both events. Click here to register and learn more about the event.

Young Kim, a GFC National Advisory Committee Member, is featured in recent article

Young Kim, a member of Growing Food Connection’s National Advisory Committee, was recently featured in an article, Busting the Myth of the Food Desert.  Read the full article to understand why Kim no longer uses the term “food desert”.

Busting the Myth of the Food Desert: A Farmer’s Market in Milwaukee Sautés Statistics


By any economic measure the 53206 zip code—part of a 120 block neighborhood on Milwaukee’s north side—is among Wisconsin’s most struggling. Sixty-six percent of households earn less than $30,000 per year while the number of violent crimes and the rate of unemployment rank consistently higher than state and national averages. But how’s the food?

In 2009, a Community Food Assessment (CFA) found that in this community, where 96 percent of the people are African American, 89 percent of the food retailers were comprised of “convenience stores, gas stations, fast food restaurants and food pantries.” This reality, not unlike a Slurpee®, is cold and utterly lacking vitamins. But it’s not uncommon in low-income urban areas. Neither, of course, are the disproportionately higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease—maladies empirically linked to the prolonged consumption of exactly the cuisine one encounters at convenience stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants.

Science suggests people should eat fruits and vegetables

From May to November, however, the local Fondy Farmer’s Market, now in its 97th year, operates one of the largest and most culturally diverse open-air markets in the region—connecting the 53206 community (and surrounding neighborhoods with similarly dismal access to fresh produce) to 30 local farmers.

Now a growing trend nationally, Fondy became the first farmer’s market in Wisconsin to accept to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the form of Electronic Benefit Cards (EBTs). Going against the standard “cash-only” business model practiced in many open-air markets (a technological headache, at first, for farmers selling their goods outside) has allowed more people access to fresh food. This applies not just to the families receiving SNAP assistance (53 percent in this Milwaukee community), but also to the 21st century consumer-at-large who’s been subconsciously phasing out cash in favor of plastic for years. In 2014, Fondy EBT sales totaled $43,392—10 times the national average of $4,628.

Stop calling it a food desert

The executive director of Fondy Farmer’s Market, Young Kim, is a second generation Korean American from the deep south—born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, than raised in Louisiana and North Carolina. With a background in social services, not agriculture, he’s been overseeing Fondy Market, a 501(c)(3), since 2003. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, Kim, was working with thehomeless population in Seattle, Washington, which, in recent years, has become one of the largest in the nation. Reflecting on that experience, Kim says:

“I felt like I was running around inside a house, placing buckets of water to catch the raindrops coming through ceiling. But I didn’t feel like anybody was climbing up on the roof and fixing it.”

The metaphor speaks to a mindset Kim calls “institutional momentum.” He says a lot of organizations formed to address social issues should be actively trying to put themselves out of a job. Instead, they find themselves becoming a business.

“When you have a large non-profit, one of the ways to demonstrate legitimacy is to provide services to a lot of people,” says Kim. “But then you become a service organization [instead of an organization trying to correct a situation]. Before you know it, you’ve become an industry.”

Overcoming “institutional momentum” can seem counter-intuitive at first. So much so that Kim admits his initial approach to the issues facing the north side of Milwaukee was wrong.

“I called this neighborhood a ‘food desert,’ ” says Kim. “I thought wholesale change needed to happen and be forced on this neighborhood.”

“Food desert,” a term used to describe the lack of access to healthy things to eat in an urban area, is one Kim no longer uses. He explains:

“This is a very food opinionated culture. People take great pride in being called a good cook and it’s not a compliment batted around lightly. I’ve since learned that to do this kind of work the right way—for long-term affect—there needs to be a sharing of power. You have to back off and listen. A lot of the good ideas come from the neighborhood and our customers themselves.”

Culture and calories

As Mark Kurlansky writes in his 2002 book Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History, “Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.”
And while the current state of American food culture (indeed much of it trademarked) remains hard to pin down—somewhere between $6 asparagus water and something called a Baconator—it might not be too late to rethink what we eat, why we eat it and where it comes from.

That mindset, as opposed to “institutional momentum,” informs Kim’s strategy. He says that every culture in Milwaukee has a healthy eating tradition and that it’s up to everyone to explore—to look back—and find their culinary heritage. Thus, cooking demonstrations, competitions and the interactive exchange of healthy recipes are an integral part of the Fondy Market mission.

Last July, while researching African-American cooking traditions prior to an upcoming weekend collard green competition, Kim came across a cookbook written by a woman during the Harlem Renaissance. Sifting through the pages, he was struck by a section in which the writer described how chickens would be raised specifically for frying, once a year, in the Spring.

“Of course back then you had to catch a chicken, kill it, pluck it, gut it and slice it up,” says Kim. “Then you had to use the fat you saved in a coffee can all year—you couldn’t go to a grocery store and buy a 5 gallon jug of canola oil. It was a once in a while thing, a celebration.”

When it comes to healthy eating, instant abundance can and does have some unintended cultural consequences. Presumably for as long as humans have lived in groups, whatever they most liked eating has been a driving part of how that culture defined itself. But while some things never change, technology does. In the age of the supermarket and driv-thru, mass-produced cultural favorites can now be purchased, indefinitely stored and consumed, in any quantity, courtesy of the frozen food aisle and/or 24-hour delivery window (the latter currently operated by people who, in the opinion of this reporter, will soon be replaced by robots blissfully undeterred by the concept of a livable wage).

“At some point a lot of the celebratory foods that were eaten as once-in-a-while treats became everyday foods,” says Kim. “In Mexican-American cuisine, for example, there’s the tamale. That used to be a very labor-intensive treat, involving whole families getting together to make them once or twice a year. Now, thanks to our industrialized food system, you can get all those ingredients and make them all the time. But that’s not healthy eating.”

Indeed, every culture has its favorites and while it’s safe to assume the celebratory foods we enjoy tasted every bit as good to our ancestors, it becomes important to remember the context of that food’s origins. Or better yet, how that context has changed. The fact is, most of the western hemisphere is doing less manual labor now than at any time in our past.

“People are starting to wake up to the fact that they’re not working on the farm anymore,” says Kim, “they’re maybe clicking a mouse, typing, standing up every now and then to go file something—we’re not using the same amount of calories as we were when these recipes were created. I think that there needs to be a return back to how our grand parents and great-grandparents ate.”

The foodies of 53206

Of course, any attempt to return to a more environmentally balanced, sensible diet is contingent upon access to fresh alternatives (to, say, Taco Bell’s Quesarito). But for that to happen, people in a community have to want options. According to Kim, his customers in Milwaukee very much do.

“The growing awareness and enthusiasm for good food has penetrated all levels of society,” he says. “The 53206 is struggling by every economic measure, but the conversations taking place here are sophisticated—I’m often asked, for example, if the corn we’re selling has been genetically modified.”

It isn’t. In 2010, the Fondy Farm Project was established to connect local farmers (many of them Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia) with affordable plots and the agricultural infrastructure needed to grow organic produce for the market. (Located in rural Port Washington, just north of Milwaukee, a more thorough description of Fondy Farms can be read here.)

It stands to reason that a satisfactory relationship between a community and its food might be best established when residents understand (and trust) where their food comes from.

“I do think that local trumps organic,” says Kim in response to a question about the merits of sustainable farming, “I would rather eat a locally produced tomato that was grown 30 minutes away from me than an organic tomato from Mexico.”

“Agriculture hasn’t been kind to everybody”

Like many cities in the Midwest and Northeast, the majority of Milwaukee’s African-American population settled here during the Great Migration—a period between 1910 and 1970 when black people left the south in droves in hopes of putting centuries of enslavement and poverty behind them. That migration, perhaps put too simply, was motivated by a desire to get as far away from Southern farming traditions as possible.

“These people were being exploited through agriculture and there was a more modern way of life calling up north‑in Chicago, New York, Newark, Boston or Oakland and a lot of people made the conscious decision to leave it behind,” says Kim. “So when you reintroduce the idea of agriculture to people that live in this neighborhood, you can’t assume folks want to be involved with farming.”

Rural communities across the country were in no way immune to the pervasive 20th century march of brightly lit peddlers of readily available, affordable, overly-processed caloric garbage. But as our nation settles into the obese aftermath, the correlation between proximity to arable land and access to trustworthy food can’t be ignored. When it comes to suggesting a struggling African-American community should readily embrace local agriculture, neither can our collective history.

Alice’s Garden, an organization that teaches urban kids about the process and business of responsible agriculture, and The Walnut Way Conservation which, as part of its comprehensive approach to local economic development through education, operates multiple high production community gardens, have recently partnered with the Fondy Market. Together, these organizations are working to produce food while healing the rift between young people, their communities and misconceptions regarding the future of agriculture.

“This is not about somebody coming in from the suburbs and luring everybody into becoming a vegetarian,” says Kim. “We’re trying to get at [food] sustainability but, when I talk about that, I mean all three aspects of it: environmental, economic and cultural.”

A different kind of optimism

Farmer’s markets are spectacles and every city does it differently.

In Seattle, for example, in addition to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, open air markets are a good place for complete strangers to sort out who started drinking kombucha first and/or which chakras benefit most from having the Didgeridoo played over them—all while being while being serenaded by hit-or-miss tunes on a dulcimer.

Fondy Farmer’s Market mixes in some tunes also. In fact, they hit all of the familiar notes one might expect from a socially-conscious, eco-friendly organization—communitythinking local and sustainability are all part of the conversation. But it’s their let’s-make-this-taste-good approach and dogged commitment to implementing these buzzwords that make the market unique.

In November 2014, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor and founding director of the Center for Economic Development, Marc V. Levine, published Zipcode 53206: A Statistical Snapshot of Inner City Distress in Milwaukee: 2000-2012.The report’s findings—socio-economic census data illustrated with easy-to-understand bar graphs—were grim. Strictly according to the numbers, a decade-long attempt at social and economic revival of the neighborhood had failed on almost every front. “Unfortunately,” the report reads, “the trend lines in 53206 continue to point downward.” In other words, the report suggests that without major change in its economic development policies, the 53206 community is poised to disappoint the next academic analysis of its unemployment, poverty, housing and educational attainment metrics.

While such studies are important, perhaps even anthropologically crucial, they tell us next to nothing about the actual people on which the statistics are based. Last July, in response to Levine’s findings, John Linnen and Michael Gosman came to the defense of the 53206 in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinal opinion piece. They wrote:

“It’s certainly true that this ZIP code has challenges, and we take no issue with the study. But a statistical snapshot—by its very nature—can’t measure how individuals in this area approach life. There are Milwaukeeans fighting for and believing in the potential of this difficult area—challenging the “snapshot” and offering an alternate narrative of opportunity and optimism.”

How an individual approaches life is hard to study or measure because it’s constantly changing. The need for food, however, remains a constant and there are people working to make an alternate, more sustainable narrative real. “It’s like any social issue,” says Young Kim, “once the wool has been pulled from your eyes, you can’t pull it back over them.”

Senior Planner/Policy Analyst Position at Change Lab Solutions

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab would like to pass on information about a Senior Planner/Policy Analyst position at Change Lab Solutions.  A position description can be found below.

Senior Planner/Policy Analyst

ChangeLab Solutions is seeking applications from qualified candidates for a Senior Planner or Policy Analyst (depending on experience and credentials). The successful candidate will work with our interdisciplinary team to develop policy solutions that advance health, equity and sustainability in low-income communities and communities of color across the nation.

About ChangeLab Solutions

ChangeLab Solutions creates innovative laws and policies to ensure everyday health for all, whether that’s providing access to affordable, healthy food and beverages, creating safe opportunities for physical activity, or ensuring the freedom to enjoy smokefree air and clean water. Our solutions address all aspects of a just, vital and thriving community, like food, housing, child care, schools, transportation, public safety, jobs, and the environment.

For more information about how we create healthier communities for all through better laws and policies, see

Position Description

The Senior Planner/Policy Analyst will work in collaborative project teams across a range of policy areas, including healthy eating, active living, healthy housing, sustainable communities, and tobacco control, as well as new and emerging issues.

This position requires strong leadership, project management, and problem-solving skills, and the ability and desire to move projects from concept to implementation. The ideal candidate has a proven record working with new and innovative programs, and demonstrates skill in motivating, guiding, and engaging people in policy change.

The Senior Planner/Policy Analyst will conduct and oversee research; produce high-quality written products; develop customized, interactive trainings (both in-person and via webinar); and provide technical assistance to our partners and clients, including community-based organizations, policy makers, and public officials across the nation. The successful candidate will thrive in a fast-paced, creative environment, and will demonstrate a high level of cultural competency working with individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

In addition, a successful candidate will embody the organization’s core values:

  • Collaboration: We create strong working partnerships internally and externally.
  • Authenticity: We support bringing one’s whole self to work.
  • Excellence: We are passionate about producing high-quality work to advance our shared mission.
  • Innovation: We drive both practical and visionary law and policy solutions to public health problems.
  • Equity: We believe in a shared vision of health for all.

Specific Responsibilities

The successful Senior Planner/Policy Analyst will have responsibilities in the following areas, with the potential to focus their work on a subset, based on interests and skills.

  • Manage multiple projects that result in a high level of client satisfaction, excellent quality of work, and balanced budgets
  • Create innovative tools and resources that meet the needs of our clients and partners, such as fact sheets, checklists, policy guides, toolkits, and model policies
  • Research and analyze national, state, and local policies
  • Provide accurate and tailored technical assistance to policymakers and advocates
  • Coordinate and deliver engaging, interactive trainings and presentations at workshops, conferences, and webinars
  • Supervise work of junior employees as appropriate
  • Cultivate relationships with existing and new partners and clients
  • Contribute to new business development
  • Facilitate and contribute to internal and external dialog that advances our innovative approach

ChangeLab Solutions has a strong commitment to building a staff that is rich with cultural, social and intellectual diversity. Candidates who can contribute to that goal are encouraged to apply and to identify their strengths and experiences in this area.

Required Skills and Attributes

Candidates must meet all these minimum requirements:

  • Graduate degree in city planning, public health, public policy, or a related field.  A Bachelor’s degree plus an additional two years of relevant professional experience (above the minimum stated below) may be substituted for a graduate degree
  • At least five years of relevant professional experience (e.g. municipal planning, advocacy, community-based work, consulting, or similar)
  • Ability to translate complex public policy issues into accessible and understandable concepts for a lay audience
  • Strong attention to detail in written and oral communications
  • Ability to manage multiple priorities and take personal initiative
  • Ability to travel (including out of state travel)

Desired Skills and Attributes

Preferred candidates will have some of these characteristics.

  • Experience working with one or more of the following constituencies: public health departments, local government staff, elected officials, advocacy groups, and community-based organizations (especially in communities of color)
  • Expertise in one or more of the legal or policy areas in which ChangeLab Solutions works:  health equity, social justice,  land use, housing, active transportation, schools, food systems, food marketing, tobacco control, environmental policy, climate change, violence prevention, public finance, redevelopment, and economic development.
  • Experience managing projects from start to finish
  • Experience cultivating client relationships that lead to new business in a consulting or non-profit setting
  • Experience giving presentations or trainings on complex topics
  • Experience conducting research, analysis, and writing on policy
  • Experience providing technical assistance on policy
  • Experience supervising staff
  • Experience with program evaluation
  • Fluency in Spanish
  • Education or experience in multiple relevant disciplines (e.g., masters degrees in public health AND planning)


This is a full-time position and includes a generous benefits package including PTO, medical, dental, vision, long term disability insurance, life insurance, tax sheltered annuity and a flexible benefit plan.  Salary range is $75,000 – $95,000 per year.

How to Apply

To apply for the Senior Planner/Policy Analyst position please email all required information; please include Senior Planner/Policy Analyst in the subject line of the email.  The following are required for a complete application packet: cover letter, resume, and a relevant writing sample. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Application review will begin September 10, 2015.  Although the position remains open until filled, candidates are encourage to submit by September 9, 2015.

Occidental College Seeking Candidate for Tenure-Track Position

Occidental College is beginning their search for candidates for a tenure-track Assistance Professor position in the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, with a start date of Fall 2016.  The college is looking for someone with expertise in food justice, as well as in resilient cities, urbanization and the environment, climate justice, energy and the economy, and natural resource policy. The search is open to a wide variety of disciplines, included economics, environmental studies, energy and resources, environmental science, geography, political ecology, political economy, sociology, and urban planning.

For more information, read the full job description here. All application materials must be submitted by Friday, October 30, 2015.

Communities of Excellence in Global Health Equity

Dr. Samina Raja, Principal Investigator of the Food Lab, is a part of University of Buffalo’s new Community of Excellence focusing on Global Health Equity.  This project will combine the strength of many disciplines to address the challenges of sanitation, food access, child mortality, refugee health and more both in other countries and here at home in Buffalo, NY.  Learn more about the project from the video below.

Dr. Samina Raja Part of Faculty Team to Address Global Health Equity

Dr. Samina Raja, Principal Investigator of the Food Lab, is a part of a faculty team who recently competed with over one hundred other faculty teams at University of Buffalo to establish a Community of Excellence that will focus on addressing issues of global health equity from a multi-disciplinary standpoint that includes public health, architecture, and engineering.  More details about the Community of Excellence can be found below, including a video about the Global Health Equity team.

We are incredibly proud of the work of Dr. Raja and her team members, Pavani Ram, Korydon Smith, and Li Lin, and excited for the future of the project.

UB invests $25 million to address pressing societal problems


Published May 28, 2015


UB faculty in the Communities of Excellence will work together across disciplines to address major issues facing our world.

“What is innovative about this initiative is that it’s brought together faculty from many different schools to develop new research programs, new academic programs and new ways to engage the community.”
Provost Charles F. Zukoski

UB is investing $25 million in an initiative that will harness the strengths of faculty from disciplines across the university to confront grand challenges facing humankind.

The university announced today the establishment of three new Communities of Excellence — an innovative and integrated approach to addressing critical societal challenges through impactful interdisciplinary research, education and engagement.

Through Communities of Excellence, teams of faculty will work together to find solutions, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. Faculty leaders within communities plan to create new educational opportunities that cut across multiple academic disciplines in order to address the focus area of each community.

The three Communities of Excellence, chosen from nearly 100 initial concept proposals submitted by faculty teams, are:

  • Global Health Equity. This community will work to address the challenge of global health inequity by bringing together faculty and students from the health sciences and disciplines that are focused on the social, economic, political and environmental conditions that lead to inequities. This community will tackle problems ranging from a lack of access to sanitation for women and girls in poor countries to high rates of non-communicable diseases due to complex sets of factors, including tobacco use and the environment.
  • Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART). This community will build upon UB’s reputation as a leader in advanced manufacturing and design by developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies, processes and education that enable sustainable, cost-effective production of high-quality, customizable products. SMART will leverage university and regional strength in manufacturing and partner with regional companies to educate future manufacturing leaders and shape national policy.
  • The Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM). This community will work to advance understanding of areas that will enable development of personalized medicine and empower individuals to have greater control over and understanding of their health, the human genome and the human microbiome — the trillions of microorganisms living in and on the human body. Through collaboration among the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, GEM will enhance UB’s reputation in genomics to make UB a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy.

The university is investing $25 million over the next five years in these Communities of Excellence and RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water), which was launched last year and was UB’s model for the Communities of Excellence.

More than 300 faculty members from across the university are active participants in the Communities of Excellence; the initiative is expected to involve faculty from all UB schools.

The Communities of Excellence initiative emerged from the UB 2020 plan to advance UB’s academic and research strengths in key areas.

“UB is known for interdisciplinary research and scholarship,” President Satish K. Tripathi says. “Several years ago, we shifted our disciplinary research paradigm to a multidisciplinary research paradigm, and with that the faculty identified the university’s strategic strengths in research, civic engagement and creative activities. The next logical stage, therefore, is for our faculty to work together to find solutions to the most pressing challenges of our world through their research, education and engagement with our local and global communities.”

“UB has chosen to harness the expertise and resources of a major public university to address complex societal challenges,” says Charles Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “What is innovative about this initiative is that it’s brought together faculty from many different schools to develop new research programs, new academic programs and new ways to engage the community.”

The three new Communities of Excellence were selected after a yearlong proposal process involving recommendations from external and internal expert reviews.

“This is an exciting time for UB,” Zukoski says. “I am proud of the outstanding effort our faculty have devoted to the development of the Communities of Excellence concept through the proposal process. Their leadership and creative engagement have benefitted our entire academic community and will have lasting impact within our university and beyond.”

Final proposals were reviewed by a panel chaired by Venu Govindaraju, interim vice president for research and economic development, and including Carl Lund, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Margarita Dubocovich, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor of English; Joseph Gardella, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs; and Sean Sullivan, vice provost for academic planning, budget and evaluation.

Global Health Equity

Global Health Equity

Leaders of the Global Health Equity team are, from left, Pavani Ram, Korydon Smith, Li Lin and Samina Raja. Photo: Douglas Levere

The Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity will work to reduce disparities in health around the world, says co-leader Pavani Ram.

“The mission of our community is to reduce the sources and effects of inequity, and promote health and well-being among under-resourced populations,” Ram says.

“Because of the different perspectives and strengths of faculty from all over the university — not only in the health sciences, but also in disciplines not routinely engaged in global health concerns but with the capacity for developing transformative solutions — we will have the ability to influence the influencers, the people who can take our solutions and implement them on the ground.”

The community will address challenges such as access to sanitation for women and girls, exposure to air pollution among neonates, getting essential drugs to low-resource communities and access to sufficient quantities of high-quality food.

“The philosophy that underpins our Community of Excellence is very much about community-based and community-led efforts,” says co-leader Samina Raja. “We really think about what the need is on the ground and focus on developing solutions that make sense in that community.”

Co-leaders of the Global Health Equity Community of Excellence are Li Lin, professor of industrial and systems engineering; Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning; Ram, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health; and Korydon Smith, associate professor of architecture.

Watch a video about Global Health Equity.

Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART)

Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies

Team leaders for the SMART team are, from left, Kemper Lewis, Omar Khan, Kenneth English and Michael Silver. Photo: Douglas Levere

The SMART community will develop design, manufacturing and construction systems that bring products to market faster, regardless of their size and complexity, while remaining ecologically and economically sustainable.

“As the United States and Western New York re-embrace manufacturing, our community is given the unique opportunity to develop advanced manufacturing processes and technologies that will enable cost-effective design of highly customizable, high-quality products,” says co-leader Kemper Lewis. “This will allow us to overcome the competitive advantages of low-cost, low-skill labor in other places where they have very marginal regulations on environmental impact and sustainability.”

The SMART team will focus on projects such as development of sustainability metrics and models to reduce waste in consumer products; methods for constructing buildings that last longer and are more sustainable; and development of an advanced humanoid robot design for on-site construction to improve efficiency, accuracy and safety.

“The community works across things as small as medical devices and as large as architectural facades and building construction systems,” says co-leader Omar Khan.

The SMART community co-leaders are Khan, associate professor of architecture; Lewis, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Michael Silver, assistant professor of architecture; and Kenneth English, deputy director of the Center for Engineering Design and Applied Simulation (formerly NYSCEDII).

Watch a video about SMART.

The Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM)

Genome, Environment and Microbiome

Leaders of the GEM team are, from left, Timothy Murphy, Norma Nowak and Jennifer Surtees. Photo: Douglas Levere

The interplay of the human genome, microbiome — the collection of microorganisms that reside in and on the human body — and the environment affect a person’s risk for certain diseases. Knowledge of these interactions will help us personalize treatment for people who are suffering from chronic and non-chronic diseases.

With this in mind, the GEM community will work to advance the science of genomics and the microbiome, and engage colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences to promote an exploration of the ethical, legal and social implications of genome and microbiome research, while also developing new interdisciplinary approaches to educating the public about new discoveries and the field in general.

“The overall goal of GEM is to integrate the science of genomics and microbiomics — to advance those disciplines — and also educating our community on the importance of the sciences because they are literally going to change how medicine is practiced in the next decade,” says co-leader Timothy Murphy.

The key to increasing genomic literacy and engaging and empowering the public, the group says, is through interdisciplinary research and creative activities that involve scholars across the university.

Not only will this technique improve scientific inquiry, but it will also help to maximize the impact of the group’s discoveries, says co-leader Jennifer Surtees.

“We are encouraging collaborations at the interfaces of different types of disciplines,” she says. “We want to try and introduce genomic themes to a broad swath of people in a way that engages them. That is where our collaboration with the arts and the humanities will really come into play. We are trying to form a true community that embraces all of the disciplines represented by the university to advance the science, as well as communicate that science to everybody.”

The GEM community is led by Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine; Norma Nowak, professor of biochemistry and executive director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences; and Surtees, associate professor of biochemistry.

Watch a video about GEM.

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