Spotlighting Women Sustainability Leaders on Campus: Brenda Bowen, Ph.D.

Bowen takes a drone selfie on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Bowen takes a drone selfie on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

By Dani Poirier, Environmental & Sustainability Studies Student

This profile is part of a series of stories highlighting women sustainability leaders from the University of Utah.

Brenda Bowen, assistant director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

After sitting down with Brenda Bowen, I was blown away with the plethora of responsibilities, and projects with which she’s involved. Currently, Bowen is the Director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), as well as an Associate Professor for the Geology & Geophysics Department. As a Director and a professor, Bowen is a powerful advocate for sustainability on this campus and beyond.

The GCSC, “Provides  a hub to coordinate, promote, and accelerate interdisciplinary research and training on issues related to the environment and sustainability, from local to global scales.” In addition, Bowen describes her mission to expand the reach of sustainability, “There’s something that everyone can bring to the conversation because sustainability is related to everything. It is beyond what a single college can do.”

Bowen is an advocate for creating an environmental and sustainability component to every academic department on campus so students in all majors are learning about how sustainability relates to their field of study and future careers. One of Bowen’s goals is to transform the educational campus experience into one where thinking about sustainability is second nature to all, rather than just students and faculty, who are studying in fields that are traditionally related. Sustainability would ideally be something that is woven into every class and spread out over the course of a student’s education rather than a single class dose. Bowen has been involved immensely with the campus community and knows that students are hungry for this. I know there are many who would agree! (I’m one of them!)

Bowen has played an integral role in the planning, implementation, and development of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate In Sustainability, which is a new graduate training program. She has also helped spearhead fellowships, retreats, seminars, faculty think tanks, mentorships, campus events, and project-based courses with unique interdisciplinary characteristics that bring together individuals from the different colleges.

Conducting fieldwork last July in the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Conducting fieldwork last July in the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Besides her advocacy, Bowen is a leader in many research areas, including projects on the effects of CO2 sequestration, the changing Bonneville Salt Flats, and the environmental changes observed in geological records. A key component to her research is studying human interactions and impacts on the landscape. In her words, she’s “exploring the interdisciplinary connections between disciplines that address global change, environmental challenges, and sustainability.”

So far, the GCSC certificate and training programs have been successful at bringing together diverse fields of study to focus on the greater topic of sustainability and help prep students to enter careers and involve sustainability! When I asked her what her future visions for the campus are, she replied that there has been a lot of development in the past four years since she’s has been here. She would like to see the programs grow and strengthen all the great programs that are already in place. Brenda Bowen has been involved immensely with the campus community and knows that students are hungry for this unique growth in interdisciplinary sustainability efforts.

I asked her if she ever imagined herself doing what she does now, how she got here, and how she manages it all. Her response: “I wish there were more hours in the day! I am surrounded by great teams to help me, at home too! I am very passionate and have followed opportunities. I may not write as many high-profile science papers, but what I am doing now with the GCSC has a much bigger, more meaningful impact.”

On top of successfully managing her overflowing plate of responsibilities within and beyond the campus community, she is a mother of two young boys. Her husband, Gabe Bowen, is also an Associate Professor in the Geology & Geophysics Department. She said that sometimes they’re even able to collaborate on projects.

It was a pleasure to meet with Bowen and to share a part of her story and work. I was totally impressed and inspired. She is such a motivated, driven, and passionate individual. I am looking forward to learning what Bowen accomplishes next.

Dani Poirier is a student in Environmental & Sustainability Studies, as well as Strategic Communications.

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