New Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment Promotes Service

The newly established Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) serves as a multidisciplinary institute dedicated to promoting research in sustainable environments in Egypt, the Middle East and North Africa. Housed on the New Cairo campus, RISE is carrying forward the legacy of the Desert Development Center (DDC), which has recently closed due to the expiration of a lease agreement with the government for its land in South Tahrir.

Richard Tutwiler, who served as the DDC’s director since 2001 and is the founding director of RISE, shares his insights about RISE activities on and off campus:

What is the primary aim of RISE? The institute represents a reaffirmation and strengthening of AUC’s commitment to sustainable environmental education and research in Egypt and the region. Building on the DDC’s accomplishments for more than 30 years in natural resource management, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture in desert areas, RISE has been given an expanded mission to promote sustainability in a diversity of environments in Egypt and the region –– rural and urban, desert and temperate –– through applied research, education and training programs. What is the benefit of having an environmental research center on campus? With RISE being based directly on the campus, there will be much better interaction and integration between sustainability research at RISE and AUC students, faculty and staff than in the past, when so much of what the DDC did was not easily accessible to the campus community. What are the main projects that RISE will undertake at AUC New Cairo? One of the primary projects is the Living Learning Laboratory, which is a campus-based research model that engages students from different disciplines in various sustainability research projects. These include the maintenance of plants and vegetables on the University’s first green roof; the design of a solar roof for parking areas, as well as a solar-powered greenhouse; and the monitoring of water quality on campus. Through these projects, students get a hands-on appreciation of sustainability in their everyday lives. Another major on-campus event is Sustainable Campus Days, which aims to raise awareness of environmentally friendly initiatives at the University. How will RISE reach out to the local community? RISE will maintain a research station and outreach center for educational programs, technical training and community services at Sadat City. We are also expanding the work of the DDC on projects where we have prolonged engagement with local communities, such as the Farafra oasis resource management initiative and the evaluation of water use and irrigation practices in Monofiya governorate. In addition, we have a large project with the Netherlands that focuses on developing programs in post-secondary practical training in the horticultural sector. This project is called the Netherlands Initiative for Capacity Building in Higher Education, and it has given us a lot of support, in particular with training our own staff — training the trainers. Moreover, environmental education programs will continue to be offered for school children of different ages. We have also been working with the American University of Beirut and the Columbia University Middle East Research Center on a project that focuses on farmer responses to water scarcity and climate change. What is the primary importance of RISE? Environmental issues are going to be the key to the survival of humanity in the future, particularly in Egypt where water supply is limited because of the heavy reliance on the Nile River and where the impact of climate change is bound to be dramatic. With the DDC, the focus was on water and land management in a desert environment. In the 21st century, other environments are important too. So, in many ways, this transition to RISE could not have come at a better time. RISE is also important because it is interdisciplinary and integrates with AUC’s academic programs, making the University a more resilient institution in terms of its core mission, namely education and service. Photo caption: The Living Learning Laboratory, a campus-based initiative undertaken by RISE, engages students in different sustainability research projects, including rooftop gardening