President Robinson, Eunice Heath, Dean Victor Ibeanusi and Dean Valencia Matthews
Florida A&M University (FAMU) hosted participants from as far as South Africa at the Energy Water Food Nexus International Summit, a gathering that addressed not only the threat posed by climate change but also how students can provide solutions to the global problem.
“This international summit is important because it elevates the conversation around climate change and focuses on the importance of collective action, the importance of collaboration and leadership,” said Eunice Heath, director of Sustainability at Dow Inc., who was honored at a gala Tuesday and was one of the recipients of the Nexus International Thought Leader Award.
For the students, the Summit was a chance for them to understand what they need to do in order to address solutions around climate change, Heath added.
The Summit not only facilitates collaboration, but “it also helps the students understand how they need to apply their learning and to go out to work with government agencies, non-government organizations and industry,” she said.
“That’s where the collaboration happens to bring solutions to address climate change,” she said. “Whether it’s energy, greenhouse gas reduction, water scarcity, water access, water quality bringing in nature solutions into business decisions. That happens with students understanding their role and where their degree can bring about change.”
It does not work without the students, Heath acknowledged.
“The students are conducting research that not only matters to them but where the University is providing leadership that is around ecosystem services, equality as well as equity. That’s why we have the partnership between the School of the Environment and the College of Social Sciences, Arts and the Humanities. It’s about bringing in the social impact and social aspects of the decisions that we make individually, as well as collectively across the industries.”
Heath, who graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in mechanical engineering, is the daughter of Early and Annie Harris of Tallahassee. A talent recruiter for two decades, she is executive sponsor for FAMU and Howard University.
“If you’re going to get Black talent, you need to go to the source,” Heath said. “I’ve been associated with Florida A&M University from my childhood because my parents are FAMU alumni. I know the quality and caliber of the students who come from here,” said Heath, who added that the purpose is to have a strategy that builds at STEM pipeline for K-12 to the Ph.D. level.
In addition to Heath, Summit participants also heard from Homer Wilkes, Ph.D., undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who addressed the opening session.
The first African American to serve in the role, Wilkes has worked with the USDA for more than 41 years, heavily contributing to engineering, natural resource, and watershed projects, as well as forestry and working lands. The Jackson State University alumnus is credited for his leadership as director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Division, where he was responsible for the restoration of the coastal ecosystem after the 2010 BP oil spill. His role oversees the U.S. Forest Service, which has felt the impact of climate change, especially with the devastating wild fires across the West.
“If I don’t get out and and get involved with students at this particular level, then it won’t take place,” Wilkes said. “It’s always important for me to reach back and talk to the students about the opportunities I’ve had and what shaped my life. This is the perfect place.”
Wilkes spoke of his decision to turn down the undersecretary position when it was offered by the Obama administration in 2009, because his son was in high school, and finding himself in the position 13 years later.
“I’ve been given a lot, so my goal is to try to give back,” he said. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
The theme of this year’s gathering was “Climate Change and the Environment: An Existential Threat to Life on Earth and our Collective Global Response.” Several hundred participants came from Europe, South Africa and across the U.S.
“Access to safe water, procurement of sustainable energy and food security are vexing global issues, and the search for viable solutions remains a relevant challenge even as we make progress toward global climate change,” said Victor Ibeanusi, Ph.D., Energy Water Food Nexus founder and dean of FAMU’s School of the Environment.
The Summit was the second major environmental conference to convene at FAMU in successive weeks. From April 6-8, FAMU hosted the Tenth Biennial National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) Education and Science Forum, which attracted undergraduate and graduate students from across the country, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands.
President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., who played host to the NOAA forum in his role as director for the NOAA Center Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, said FAMU seeks to be a leader in researching environmental issues and preparing the next generation of environmental scientists.
“We are honored to host this international summit that will convene thought leaders addressing climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time. FAMU is the center of important research on the environment,” Robinson said.