Commentary: USU brings Research Landscapes series to the Wasatch Front

Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo Old Main Building is at Utah State University.

Last November, I joined 40 Utah lawmakers and business leaders for lunch and surveyed them about what they thought were the most significant challenges the state faces when managing land, water and air resources. Although the space we provided on the survey was small, their responses were extensive. In those three specific areas, our statewide colleagues identified more than 50 unique Utah challenges.

For a state legislator, city manager or local business leader, addressing these substantial and complex issues can be daunting. As Utah’s land-grant institution — defined by our most fundamental mission — USU is committed to providing our state with meaningful information so leaders are better prepared to make decisions that affect all of us. USU has a mandate to address critical state issues, and USU research professors have answers to both long-range and immediate needs in the state.

On Feb. 26, in Salt Lake City, the university is launching USU Research Landscapes: Air, Land, Water, an event series designed to provide more context, connections and conversations with policymakers, business leaders and community stakeholders — the state’s problem solvers.

Our goal is to bring research-driven expertise to the discussion as problem solvers tackle some of our region’s most difficult questions, particularly those challenges confronting Utah’s landscapes, waterscapes and airscapes. USU has more than 100 research professors whose work is closely related to land, water and air, and their expertise is spread from our main campus in Logan to regional campuses throughout the state.

Much of the work our researchers actively pursue is in projects designed to benefit Utah, and more than 80 percent of our “land/water/air” professors already engage in partnerships with Utah government agencies, businesses or community organizations.

But we can do more.

At the first event on Feb. 26, we will cover air quality. During the winter months, one needs only to look out a window to understand that air quality remains an issue along the Wasatch Front and in other places in Utah. It’s a critical topic actively debated on Capitol Hill, in our city governments and in the media. USU Research Landscapes will provide an essential mechanism for sharing evidence-based information, leading to strategies that are more effective than a trial-and-error approach.

The Feb. 26 event is free and open to the public at O.C. Tanner’s world headquarters, 1930 S. State Street in Salt Lake City. It will be headlined by USU professor Randy Martin, who is, arguably, Utah’s leading expert in fine particulate matter research. He is on the state’s Air Quality Board and has guided many of the most extensive air quality studies in the state.

Martin will discuss his work and his partnerships, focusing on the details problem solvers need to know as they consider actions they’re going to address Utah’s air pollution. For example, we know that vehicles produce a lot of Utah’s air pollution. But how much do personal vehicles contribute to the issue? Martin will also talk about public transportation and how he’s working to define the impact of potential public transportation initiatives. He’ll specify how many bus riders it actually takes to yield a net reduction in overall emissions.

Other USU and state Utah air quality researchers will also be at this event and will be on hand to discuss their research, their thoughts and the ways they are quantifying air quality in the state.

Later in the year, the university will highlight Utah’s water and land issues in presentations led by two other USU faculty members. USU biology professor Michelle Baker led a state research initiative to safeguard Utah’s water. And USU sociology professor Courtney Flint is overseeing a five-year study to better characterize Utah’s values and vision for the way we use and interact with our unique landscape.

By bringing these findings from Logan to Salt Lake City, USU continues to fulfill its unique role as Utah’s land-grant university. Conducting research that is evidence-based will identify the urgent problems that Utah faces and contribute to practical solutions to the problems.

For information on USU Research Landscapes, please visit researchlandscapes.usu.edu.

Noelle E. Cockett | President of Utah State University.

Noelle E. Cockett is the president of Utah State University.