Sustainability director finalists

Portland State hosted two candidates for the PSU Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices director position last Friday, Feb. 19 and Monday, Feb. 22.

Portland State hosted two candidates for the PSU Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices director position last Friday, Feb. 19 and Monday, Feb. 22.

Both candidates, Susan Shaheen and Robert Costanza, held two sessions. In the first session, candidates spoke to the campus and community, while the second session was dedicated to students. Both candidates gave slide shows and took questions. 

[Editor’s note: Some of the following information comes directly from the Web site dedicated to the candidates.]

The first candidate was Robert Costanza, Gund Professor of Ecological Economics and director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. Costanza specializes in research on the interface between ecological and economic systems.

Ecological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice and time. 

Aside from specializing in ecological economics, Costanza, has authored or co-authored over 300 scientific papers and has had his work cited in over 3,000 scientific articles. Costanza received the Kellogg National Fellow award, is a Pew Scholar and received an honorary doctorate in natural sciences from Stockholm University.

In his sessions with the campus, community and students, Costanza said that “leadership is key to moving the sustainability front forward.”

Costanza assessed that student leadership will play a crucial role in getting the sustainability effort moving. He said that a faculty for this movement is in place, and that the students are willing to push the effort forward. However, the leadership that will guide the process must be in place before it can move.

When asked how he plans to deal with sustainability at PSU, Costanza said “we will focus on a problem, and come up with a solution.”

Costanza said that his idea of dealing with the problems that will arise is a “Big Bird” approach. Students and faculty will assess the problem together, and blur the boundaries between teacher and student. He hopes to create an integrated system of approaching problems as a united entity.

“You can get info wherever you want now, but synthesizing this information and putting it to use to solve problems is what we want,” Costanza said.

He said that by “utilizing all that intellectual capital,” incentives would inspire creativity in problem solving.

“A lot of universities prepare students for problems. What we want to do is have the students in the problems figuring out solutions,” Costanza said.

Using communities as models, he plans to incorporate anyone who wishes to learn and help solve problems into the blurred field of teaching and research.

“We will find the people who want to debate for this [sustainability], and not force those who do not want to be involved,” Costanza said.

The second candidate was Susan Shaheen, who holds a joint research appointment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, as well as at the University of California, Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies-Davis.

She is also a co-director of the transportation track at the Energy Efficiency Center at UC Davis. Shaheen also served as a special assistant to the Directors Office of the California Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2004.

Shaheen holds a doctorate in ecology, focusing on technology management and the environmental aspects of transportation. She has co-edited one book, authored 27 journal articles, was honored as the first Honda Distinguished Scholar, and is the chair of the Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies Committee of the Transportation Research Board.

According to Shaheen, PSU is a university without institutional barriers, and that money and faculty will not be problems. She said that this will make the whole process of achieving sustainable ways of living easier to attain.

When asked how she will deal with integrating PSU students and faculty, Shaheen said that PSU would have to form itself into a “living lab.” This idea would take a systems approach at the way PSU sustainability operates, mixing the roles of teaching and research with learning.

Shaheen compared sustainability to an iPhone and its applications, and said it’s a process that has many different niches that must be explored in order to fully realize the goal and idea. Shaheen called for synchronization between the community and PSU campus.

She said that the only way to make sustainability fully effective would be to make the “difference in a physical way.” She believes that faculty and student research, in line with community collaboration, will be the way to progress sustainability.

Shaheen also commented on scholarships for students, as well as eligibility for becoming part of the sustainability team at PSU. She said that it is not strictly academic, but also about passion and commitment. According to Shaheen, as long as students show a willingness to learn and help out, anyone can be part of this program.

A complete position description is available online. For more information about the search, visit