By Meg Kramer, Director of Strategic Development
The Water Center at Penn
With 2020 behind us, 2021 offers an opportunity to look forward to brighter horizons, new beginnings, and hopefully, a time when we can reconvene in person with friends, colleagues, and collaborators. This coming summer will mark the Water Center at Penn’s third anniversary as a center in the School of Arts and Sciences. Although we had high hopes when we started, those hopes have been exceeded by reality. From our increasing number of research projects and partners, to our high level of student engagement to our growing depth and breadth of connections across the university and water sector, we are fulfilling our mission of becoming a preeminent academic center providing integrated real-world solutions to critical urban water challenges.
Our journey is only just beginning. We are excited about our plans and new opportunities for collaboration in 2021. We encourage our readers to join us on this journey toward becoming the hub of water-related study, research, and programming at the University of Pennsylvania. Following is just a sampling of the things we are planning for 2021.
We currently have eight applied research projects in progress. These projects include a wide range of urban water issues such as green stormwater infrastructure, water quality, affordability, equity, infrastructure financing, and climate resilience, among other topics. Additionally, many of these projects require significant stakeholder engagement, bringing together diverse groups to develop solutions to shared water challenges. From undertaking an independent, science-based feasibility study on improving water quality to achieve swimmable waters for the 27-mile stretch of the Delaware River between Philadelphia, Camden to Chester, to bringing a wide range of stakeholders together in the Pittsburgh area to generate the collective will to support integrated water resource management, our research projects help people better understand, enjoy and manage the natural water resources around them. With several new research projects in the works, we anticipate a continued expansion in the depth and breadth of our applied research as well as an increasing number of partners, funders, and collaborators to help us find creative approaches to solving our shared water problems.
Few public services are more fundamental to public health and safety, social and economic sustainability and climate resilience than water services. According to the United Nations, clean drinking water and sanitation are human rights “essential to the realization of all human rights.” We must approach solutions to our shared water challenges with a deep understanding and careful consideration of the diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice (DEIJ) issues that are inherent in these challenges.
To that end, the Water Center staff has embarked on a year-long journey to ensure that each of us grows in our understanding of DEIJ issues – shifting the lens through which we see ourselves and our work and therefore producing better, more informed, and more equitable outcomes in our work. This collective journey includes participation in a six-month Anti-Racist Leadership Series program, group discussions, sharing of learning resources, and additional moderated group sessions. In addition to creating continued opportunities to learn and grow together, we are working to ensure that our staff, advisory boards, and partners include more diverse voices and are more reflective of the communities we strive to support.
We understand that learning to apply a DEIJ lens to ourselves and our work is a lifelong journey for each of us. However, we believe that embarking on the journey together as an organization will help us get further, faster, so that we can help dismantle the institutional and systemic barriers that have created the water crises so many disadvantaged communities currently face and ensure a more equitable and just water future for all.
Water is the universal connector. It is interdisciplinary by its very nature. It has the ability to unite people, places, and purpose. Water combines scientific, social, and cultural relevance in a way that other natural resources may not. As such the Water Center has a wide array of interested stakeholders with a shared passion for finding solutions to urban water challenges. Our programming and partnerships reflect that wide variety of stakeholder interests.
This year the Water Center will continue its highly successful Water Exchange Speaker Series and quarterly newsletter. These programs showcase individuals from a plethora of industries and areas of study, yet focus on issues that are relatable and of interest to many audiences such as water quality, infrastructure, affordability, technology, and access. Additionally, we will begin a new podcast series, bringing even more voices and perspectives to the “water table” with a particular focus on voices of women and previously underrepresented communities. Our wH2O Journal of Gender and Water will launch its 8th volume this year with related virtual programming to highlight authors and topics. We look forward to shifting some of our current virtual programs to in-person formats once it is safe to do so.
2021 is the year of partnerships for the Water Center. As we increase our programming and research portfolio we look to strengthen existing partnerships as well as and create new partnerships with industry, individuals, foundations and NGO partners. These partnerships help us build our interdisciplinary network of collaborators to find solutions to our shared water challenges and support our goal of becoming the hub of water-related research at the University of Pennsylvania. Our partnerships are flexible and customized to each partner’s individual goals and needs. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
We have had an amazing response from Penn alumni interested in helping us create a Penn Alumni Water Forum. Alumni from across the university, from a large assortment of personal and professional backgrounds, are coming together to create a forum for water-related networking, mentoring, research generation, programming, and just plain inspiration. Based on the success of our recent Inaugural Penn Alumni Water Forum event, similar events are being planned for the near future. If you are interested in joining the Penn Alumni Water Forum, you can do so through Ben Connect or by contacting me at email@example.com or our Communications Manager, Krystal Pleasant at firstname.lastname@example.org directly.
In January, in conjunction with the Class of 1971, the Water Center hosted a webinar entitled “Climate Change and Global Water Crises: Implications of Too Much and Not Enough Water” to celebrate the upcoming Class of 1971’s 50th Reunion. Due to the program’s large turnout and positive feedback from attendees, we are planning an interdisciplinary virtual panel discussion for Alumni Weekend in May where all speakers will be Penn alumni working on water issues. Stay tuned for more information.
The above is just a sample of what the Water Center has planned for 2021. We look forward to another year of growth and progress toward solving critical urban water challenges here in the US and around the world. But we know we can’t do it alone. We need more voices and perspectives around the “water table” so please get involved. Reach out to us to find out what we can do together in 2021!
Meg comes to The Water Center at Penn with a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) from the University of Pennsylvania, hands-on experience with land conservation, watershed education, and environmental sustainability at the local level, and a keen interest in water issues. She combines her interest in water with management expertise developed through decades of business and entrepreneurial experience to help The Water Center at Penn achieve its vision of becoming the preeminent center that provides real-world solutions to critical urban water problems.