New Collaborative, Greater Impact

Stetson is a founding member of the newly formed East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative. Pictured (left to right): Orange City Mayor Gary Blair; Mayor of Orange County Jerry Demings; Palm Bay City Manager Lisa Morrell; City of Orlando District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan; City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Oak Hill City Administrator Kohn Evans; and Jason Evans, PhD, interim executive director of Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience’s and associate professor of environmental science and studies.
Photo: City of Orlando 

Since its establishment in 2014, Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, the first of its kind at the university, has worked to become a center for innovative approaches to tackling complex environmental challenges.

More specifically, its vision has been to have faculty, students and alumni emerge as leaders across the region for education, research and policy development that ultimately generates technical, social and political solutions for a number of environmental concerns.

Significant progress toward that goal continues to be made.

Most recently, the Institute, led by Interim Executive Director Jason Evans, PhD, became the first university member of the newly formed East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative, a part of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Consisting of stakeholders across eight counties, the group was formed to enhance regional resilience. 

A signing ceremony in Orlando was held Oct. 23, with Provost Noel Painter, PhD, serving as the official signatory for Stetson’s commitment.

As part of the new collaborative work, alumna Julia Nesheiwat (left) will share ideas and information with Stetson’s Jason Evans (right), PhD.

In addition, Stetson alumna Julia Nesheiwat ’97, who became Florida’s first chief resilience officer earlier this fall, gave the keynote address at the event.

According to Evans, during the past several years Stetson has partnered on projects with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council and was asked to participate in the new collaborative “right at the ground floor.” The council covers Brevard, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.

“It was a real honor that they asked us to sign on. … These are all people who we know and we’ve worked with,” said Evans, also an associate professor of environmental science and studies.

“It’s just a great initiative overall, getting all of these local governments throughout the region to collaborate. It’s a really big deal, and I think it just says that the work we are doing is being recognized and respected.” 

The collaborative effort and the planning council are effectively positioning Central Florida as a national leader in resilience planning, he added.

Evans expects Stetson’s initial work to largely encompass the re-evaluation and updating of existing environmental resilience plans, along with a continual review of data, projections and policies regarding climate change and related issues.

Stetson students will benefit, too, Evans continued, pointing to the general novelty of resilience planning. One example: As he learns in the field and throughout the region, he will pass along those lessons in the classroom and at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, where the Institute is housed.

“Resilience planning is really quite new. What it means and how we interact with each other, and what are the actions we take and what do we learn from what we’re doing, this is sort of new territory,” said Evans.

The Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center houses the Institute’s labs, which are scheduled to be newly equipped.

“This is a topic we would bring up in environmental science class. It’s one thing to read about resilience and the theory of resilience. And we need to do that. But we can also actually talk about what it means and give examples. Most importantly, it gives students the opportunity to do internships, to go to work at the regional planning council or local governments.”

Seed Funding

In addition, the timing is fortuitous. 

In October, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations awarded $299,647 to Stetson, essentially to outfit the Institute’s laboratories at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, which opened last spring. The funds will be used to purchase geosciences equipment, a weather station, water-level gauges and water-quality instrumentation, plus to hire a lab manager.

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, organized in 1952 under a living trust established by Arthur Vining Davis, has awarded more than 3,800 grants totaling $300-plus million to colleges and universities, hospitals and medical schools, among others. Over the years. there have been two other Vining Davis awards to Stetson. 

With a new regional collaboration and new national funding, Evans looked optimistically toward the new year. 

“This will help us get activity up and running at a high level,” he commented. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to make the aquatic center laboratories something we can be proud of.

“This speaks to the quality of the Institute and what we’ve been able to do so far. We’ve got a lot of activity going on.”

-Michael Candelaria