ISE names inaugural Faculty Fellows


George Mason University’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth (ISE) has named its first cohort of ISE Faculty Fellows.

Celso Ferreira of the Volgenau School of Engineering, John Qu of the College of Science, and Cher Weixia Chen of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences are the first three faculty members chosen for a two-year term as fellows. They begin their work this month.

"I am delighted that Drs. Ferreira, Qu, and Chen are taking on these very important leadership roles for the university,” said Aurali Dade, interim vice president for research, innovation and economic impact. “Hundreds of Mason faculty from across all of our colleges have come together to co-create and contribute to this institute. Their collegiality and dedication to solving the world's most pressing challenges is truly extraordinary."

The goal of the fellowships, as well as the institute, is to “help build connections across academic units and disciplinary boundaries,” said ISE Executive Director Leah Nichols, who joined Mason in March 2020 to lead the institute after eight years at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The ISE community consists of more than 550 faculty who conduct research within all areas of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Nichols said she expects each fellow to serve as a community-building catalyst and lead the development of transdisciplinary communities of research and practice around one of six ISE’s research themes. To maximize Mason’s impact, these themes broadly align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nichols hopes to name three more fellows in 2022 to focus on the remaining three themes.

As an ISE faculty fellow, Ferreira, an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, will lead efforts to develop the “Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Ecosystems” theme. Research in this area addresses urban and peri-urban sustainability challenges, supports development of resilient communities, and ensures the health of ecosystems. Ferreira leads the Mason Flood Hazards Research Lab, which focuses on investigating and developing solutions that increase societal resilience to water-related natural hazards. He is also an affiliate of the Business for a Better World Center and the Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities.

As an ISE Fellow, Qu will lead efforts to develop the “Clean Energy, Decarbonization, and Climate Action theme. Research in this area aims to mitigate atmospheric carbon emissions and strengthen adaptive capacities to climate threats in both highly industrialized and developing countries. A professor in the Department of Geography and Geoformation Science, director of Mason’s Global Environment and Natural Resource Institute, and founding director of the Environmental Science and Technology Center, Qu focuses his research on the development of integrated early warning and decision-support systems for sustainable water-energy-food-health systems.

As an ISE fellow, Chen will lead efforts to develop the “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions to Support Thriving Economies theme. Research in this area focuses on fostering just and inclusive societies with strong economies and alleviating challenges—such as violence and crime, violations of civil rights and liberties, and human displacement and mass migration—precipitated by the lack of strong institutions and justice. An associate professor in the School of Integrative Studies, the founder of the Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative, and a senior scholar in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, Chen focuses on the human rights of marginalized groups and on the well-being of social justice and human rights activists.