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Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs has named Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and chair of A.B. engineering, Visiting Research Scholar in its Science Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) program.

Jones will spend the next academic year at Princeton working on the development of a simplified method for policymakers to evaluate the sustainability of water infrastructure systems. She plans to base the method on a life-cycle assessment approach using infrastructure data and socioeconomic data obtained and managed with geographical information systems. She also will attend graduate seminars, colloquia, and public lectures concerning environmental policy.

“The STEP fellowships are designed to promote advanced policy research in any of several areas of interest to the program,” Jones explains. “There are many other researchers, including a water NGO, looking at this same problem from many angles, and I hope my work contributes to that body of knowledge. This project overlaps several current areas of research at STEP including global environmental governance, environmental health and disease, and risk assessment. I am expected to involve Ph.D. students of various disciplines from Princeton in the effort, which I am looking forward to. And, I’m discussing the possibility of involving civil engineering undergraduates in the overall research effort since that’s what we do at Lafayette.”

Jones considers the Woodrow Wilson School one of the best policy research schools in the world, and she is eager to begin working with its scholars and students, including civil engineering graduate Michael Celia ’78, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton. Knowing that the work she performs there has the potential to benefit society is an added incentive.

“My interest in environmental policy comes from the fact that the output of such efforts affects the quality of society’s human-natural interface like no other field,” she says. “And, it is a field where there is so much need for improved environmental policy as we better understand some of the great challenges we face as a society, such as global warming, habitat loss, and the provision of water to the millions in need. As an engineer, I understand that technology can solve many problems. As a social scientist, I understand that behavior can solve many problems. As a policy researcher, I know that we must understand the implications that policy decisions can have on society, and these impacts become very complex as technology and behavior interact.”

Water sustainability has been an area of interest for Jones since the beginning of her career. She has applied her interests in continuing work with urban water issues and Native American settlements. The projects she has worked on include the development of infrastructure management systems for the Tohono O’odham Nation in southwestern Arizona and a variety of sanitary-facility projects at the reservation.

“Artists may see society in terms of the portraits and sculptures. Economists may see society in terms of markets. Perhaps because I am an engineer, I see society in terms of infrastructure,” Jones explains. “This infrastructure shapes society’s quality of life. Water infrastructure is just one example, but often is the first societal need, and it makes sense for me to start with that.”

Jones also has been involved in Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, leading efforts to provide clean, safe drinking water to the remote villages of Laguintas and La Fortuna in the Yoro district of rural Honduras. The team’s work earned it a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability, which garnered national media attention. Two student members of the team recently presented the project at an international conference in Brazil.

The opportunity to work closely with undergraduates on meaningful research and projects is one of the greatest rewards in Jones’ teaching career. She believes her sabbatical research at Princeton will enhance her effectiveness in the classroom at Lafayette and working one-on-one with students.

“Sabbaticals are excellent opportunities to either reinvigorate a research program or to redirect one’s research,” she says. “In particular, I want to use this opportunity to raise the quality of my research and to improve connections between Princeton and Lafayette. Teaching is more than just the classroom interaction. Research experiences allow for teaching at a much more collaborative level. I encourage all eligible students to seek out these opportunities regardless of if they want to attend graduate school.”

In addition to her work on sustainable water systems, Jones also plans to use her time at Princeton to continue her studies on education reform in environmental engineering. She has been collaborating with Catherine Peters, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean for academic affairs at Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Jones recently was part of an invited group of environmental engineering professors who met in Tempe, Ariz. to discuss the core competencies needed for the future environmental engineer. The meeting was funded by the National Science Foundation, and the American Academy of Environmental Engineers expects to use the results. Peters also participated in the meeting, and the two have also worked together on efforts to understand the demographics and diversity of the environmental engineering profession through the Association for Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, of which Peters is a former president.

“Environmental engineering is projected to grow tremendously in the next few years and has already established itself as a distinct discipline and not merely a part of other engineering fields,” Jones says. “This distinction will continue as our environmental problems become more complex, therefore the competencies needed are going to increase. Environmental engineering is no longer just about building a wastewater treatment plan, or an air pollution control stack. It’s about creating, designing, implementing, managing, and regulating every aspect of interface between human systems and natural systems. It’s about using math and science and knowledge of the human experience to take a leadership role in the stewardship of our planet.”

Since joining the Lafayette faculty in 2002, Jones has mentored over 10 Lafayette students in independent research on topics ranging from World Bank water policies in South Africa, to water quality in low-income Native American communities, to Lehigh Valley sinkholes, to the application of economic models on environmental policy.

In 2003, Jones received a NASA Summer Faculty Fellowship to conduct research at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Based in the agency’s Capital Investment Planning Office, she developed and used web-based and state-of-the-art geographic information system technologies for infrastructure management.

In 2004, she was named Faculty-Member-in-Residence by the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering program. There, she helped students discover non-traditional career paths and alternative ways of using their engineering educations.

Jones also serves as a faculty affiliate for Lafayette’s newly created Policy Studies Program. Her students contributed a pre-recorded segment for the College’s first-ever ENvision election night coverage of the mid-term elections this past November.

Jones’ research interests include climate change impact minimization, environmental literacy, environmental argument systems and compliance, decision frameworks for environmental decision making, geographic information systems, rural infrastructure management, promoting diversity in the engineering profession, risk assessment management, solid and hazardous waste management, and waste minimization and pollution prevention.

She received her Ph.D. in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University, M.E. in civil engineering from University of Florida-Gainesville, and B.S. civil engineering from Columbia University.

Categorized in: Academic News