New database by the Office of Sustainability bridges the gap between UI researchers and the community

The UI Office of Sustainability launched a new database to bring experts and the community closer together.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Lily

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability is pictured in the Old Capitol Mall on Clinton St. UISG voted on a bill to allocate $1,738 this year for a Renewable Energy Educational Development trip, each semester. (The Daily Iowan/Ben Smith)

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability launched a new database at the start of the summer to help connect researchers and professors with each other and the local community.

The Sustainability Scientists and Scholars database currently holds 42 different profiles for all faculty levels, scientists, research staff, research administration, and graduate students. It hosts over 200 topics and fields ranging from water quality to geological processes, economics, and climate change.

What does Eric Gidal, Professor in the UI English Department, who teaches courses in poetry, aesthetics, the visual arts, and in eighteenth-century and romantic-era literature, have in common with Ibrahim Demir, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering?

Their expertise in science fiction, relating to environmental issues.

“We see quite a lot of overlapping sustainability work being done here at the university,” Blake Rupe, manager of the Office of Sustainability, said. “We wanted to create an adaptive and inclusive open resource to help build bridges and break down silos on our campus.”

UI Office of Sustainability Director Stratis Giannakouros said the idea was conceived as a strategy for linking different departments on campus, and have a better avenue to connect them with the greater Iowa City community.

“For the community at large, if you’re in Iowa and you have a question about water quality and want an expert, it’s easy for you to search the database and connect with them,” Giannakorous said. “It cuts right to the chase.”

RELATED: Public Library preserves local historical newspapers on online database 

Currently the office is inviting more people to join the database by submitting their information on the site and through email, and they are preparing to move everything to a new dedicated site while the UI updates their websites. Giannakorous said while it’s quieter during the summer, they’re expecting a lot more usage in the fall when students return to campus.

“We are telling everyone that if they have the seed of an idea for a sustainability research study, grant, or an initiative, they should be able to find the perfect colleague in this database,” Rupe said.

While this kind of database is new to Iowa, it has been seen before in other universities. Giannakouros said the idea and execution of the database was adapted from models in schools like the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, where Giannakouros previously worked. Like ASU, the Sustainability Scientists and Scholars database can let users search by tags relating to fields of expertise.

UI student Hallie Lartius said the database would be useful for students trying to navigate their classes as well. She said for students working on projects or papers for their courses, the gap between them and expert interviews has been bridged.

“It’s easy to get disoriented in such a large university, especially when dealing with a field as broad and diverse as sustainability,” Lartius said in an email to The Daily Iowan.