by Joseph Master

Melissa R. Gilbert, an expert in urban geography, feminist and critical race studies, and social action research, has been selected to serve as the new director of Temple University’s Center for Sustainable Communities, College of Liberal Arts Dean Richard Deeg announced today.

“We are delighted to have Melissa on board as the new director,” Deeg said. “She has the experience and vision to advance the Center’s mission to produce leading interdisciplinary research around the environment and sustainability and to transform this research into policy and action.”

The Center for Sustainable Communities was established in 2000 by Jeffrey P. Featherstone to develop and promote new approaches to protect and preserve quality of life through sustainable development. A working resource for government agencies, community organizations, and developers, the Center provides objective information and services, interdisciplinary research and community outreach programs to improve decision-making relative to land use and water resources planning and development. The Center also utilizes the expertise of Temple University faculty from various disciplines — including geography and urban studies, environmental studies, economics, landscape architecture, horticulture, geology, city and regional planning, engineering, and chemistry.

A respected member of the College of Liberal Arts faculty, Gilbert, who also serves as chair of the Department of Geography and Urban Studies, is currently conducting research examining the relationships among access to information and communication technology, economic, educational, and health disparities, and poor people’s community-based organizing in the United States. Her research, supported by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council and the Fulbright Commission, has been widely published. She has worked with community organizations related to economic empowerment and digital inequalities and is a former member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission Board in Pennsylvania. Gilbert is chairing a steering committee sponsored by the Office of Vice President for Research to develop a strategic plan for a university wide initiative on environmental research.

Gilbert said she is eager to begin her new role.

“I am excited to take on the challenge of building on the Center’s very strong foundation to extend its reach and impact,” Gilbert said. “The Center will expand on Temple’s strong tradition of community-engaged research and environmental stewardship to help position the University as a leader in sustainability science training for the next generation of change makers.”

Gilbert added that the Center’s relevance to the city of Philadelphia, the region and its potential worldwide impact is greater now than ever before.

“Given the urgency of environmental problems affecting marginalized communities in Philadelphia and across the globe, it is imperative that we better connect research on human-environment interactions to society and policy through more participatory approaches to research,” Gilbert said. “I look forward to convening the university community to continue the tradition of excellence of the Center.” 

I want to enhance collaboration among the university, the public and private sectors, and affected communities to address the challenges and possibilities of sustainability. 

Moving forward, Gilbert has been charged with extending the Center’s impact through transdisciplinary research that builds bridges between the social, life, and physical sciences at Temple to understand sustainability within earth system boundaries. The goal is to build on the College of Liberal Arts strengths in social science and humanities approaches to environmental issues, geospatial technologies, community-based research and policy analysis to work with faculty across the university to focus on finding solutions to sustainability problems.

Gilbert succeeds Professor Lynn Mandarano, from the Division of Architecture and Environmental Design of the Tyler School of Art, who served as Acting Director following the untimely death in May 2016 of the Center’s founding director, Jeffrey P. Featherstone.

“We have all been touched by the tragedy of Jeff’s loss,” Deeg said. “It is particularly gratifying to continue his legacy by investing in and growing the Center through the kind of interdisciplinary research and community outreach that is a hallmark of Temple’s mission to enhance the quality of life for not just Temple’s fellow citizens in North Philadelphia, but for citizens of the world.”

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