Lisa GraumlichAs Dean I am often asked to explain the importance of the College of the Environment in simple, accessible language to the public—the proverbial “elevator speech.” In my first year as Dean I often described the size and scope of the College. And, in truth, it’s impressive: the biggest college of the environment in the United States, with $115 million in externally-funded research taking place on all seven continents and in each of the world’s oceans. While this message had a general “Go Huskies!” appeal, it did not lend itself to deeper dialogue. At worst it made people’s eyes glaze over.

As time went on and I got to know the College better, I mastered stories of the cutting-edge research and heroic expeditions of our faculty, staff and students. People are impressed and, at times, in awe. But, as I seek support for our research from the public, including donors and private foundations, the question arises: “to what end?” My answer to that question is below:

Humanity is operating in a world of unprecedented risks, including climate change, ocean acidification, and natural disasters. Minimizing exposure to risk is part of doing good business as well as protecting lives and livelihoods.

And, at the same time, we currently do not know how to meet the ubiquitous and global demand for food, water and energy without compromising sustainability.

And, finally, our scientists are at the cutting edge of understanding the workings of the Earth and its ecosystems. They also work with a wide range of partners to make sure that scientific knowledge is useable and used by citizens and decision makers.

These simple statements start deeper conversations because they resonate with our shared future and our common humanity.

With the holidays upon us, you will have many occasions to talk about your work with friends and family. I urge you to frame your work with your own “to what end?” thinking. And, if this does indeed spark a dialogue about our common purpose, I would love to hear from you.


Lisa Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor