Nebraska contributing to global perspectives on resilience

NRT director Craig Allen and master’s students Kate Bird and Alexis Chavez took part in the first worldwide class offered online by the Resilience Alliance, an ecology network, May 24-28, 2021.

Allen, also a natural resources professor and director of the Center for Resilience in Working Agricultural Landscapes at Nebraska, taught the five-day course, “Global Perspectives on Resilience,” with nine other resilience professionals. Each instructor took a 1½-hour block, with the class meeting three hours each day.

Bird and Chavez were among an estimated 45-50 people applying for one of the 30 “seats” in the class. They were the only students from Nebraska chosen.

“We definitely had more applicants than we had seats,” Allen said. “We as a whole set of instructors, vetted all applicants and selected a group that we thought was compatible, diverse and a mixture of experienced and non-experienced students and nonstudents and location diversity as well.”

Alliance members have typically come from Sweden, Canada and the United States, but Allen said members have been trying to expand the network’s reach into other nations and the online class enabled them to include Europeans, Africans and a few South Americans. The course ran on Eastern Standard Time, putting most Europeans and Africans on about a seven-hour time difference from other class participants.

“They were starting at five o’clock in the evening, and they were staying pretty late at night to get through it all,” Allen said. “It was a devoted group of students.”

The students learned about resilience, how much disturbance a system can withstand before it fundamentally changes in what it is and what it does, from various global perspectives.

As graduate students in Nebraska’s National Research Traineeship, a National Science Foundation project Allen directs, Bird and Chavez had studied ecological resilience for almost a year before taking the Resilience Alliance class. Both said they gained from the class.

“The most interesting aspect to me about it was the many methods that were discussed for resilience research,” Chavez said. “I am particularly interested in approaches that partly use qualitative methods, so getting to hear from Dr. Jennifer Hodbod, Dr. Allyson Quinlan, and a few other students gave me ideas on what I want to do in my future work.”

Bird said the way the course combined lectures from faculty, randomly assigned breakout groups and topic-based working groups allowed her to meet new people every day and hear new ideas.

“A few key concepts that came up--polycentricity and diversity, among others--prompted a lot of new questions in my mind,” she said. “I am eager to learn more and am now thinking about how I could incorporate some of these ideas into my current work, or maybe use them to inspire new project ideas.”

Allen said both students benefited from hearing about resilience from other global perspectives.

“The NRT students get a lot of my perspective, and the approach that folks in Sweden and elsewhere have may be quite different, so I think in terms of getting exposure to those different approaches was probably really good,” he said.

In general, Allen said Sweden has more scientists focused on resilience from a social science perspective whereas Nebraska scientists tend to emphasize quantifiable approaches, trying to detect and measure changes in resilience.

He said he expects the network will repeat the class again and noted that resilience is a rapidly expanding area of science and the term “resilience” is interpreted and used differently by different people.

“There is no one-size-fits all,” he said. “It’s rapidly evolving and is a competition of ideas, as science always is, and the test of time is what sorts things out.”

— Ronica Stromberg, NRT Program Coordinator

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