SUNY Oswego rises to meet Grand Challenges Project: Fresh Water For All
By Melissa Stefanec
The SUNY Oswego campus has a claim to fame few other universities have — the campus borders a great and rare treasure, Lake Ontario.
Although Lake Ontario is the smallest in surface area of the Great Lakes, its beauty and vastness are what bring so many to Oswego in the first place. The Port City is known for its water, and it’s only natural for the campus community to be drawn to it.
There is a massive amount of fresh water contained in Lake Ontario — 393 cubic miles to be exact, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
This awesome amount of natural resource is something many people in this world don’t have access to.
Last fall, the college put out an email survey to everyone on campus requesting input for what issues the Grand Challenges Project should address. When the results were tallied, the winner was clear. From 2018 through the spring of 2020, SUNY Oswego would embark on a mission called the Grand Challenges Project: Fresh Water for All.
Access to fresh water is truly one of the thorniest problems across the globe today. So, there was an opportunity to align the university’s mission statement, which aims to find solutions to the grand challenges of our times, to something that was very close to home — water.
From SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley, whose vision and support made the project possible, to the incoming Education Opportunity Program freshmen class that recently gave poster presentations on Lake Ontario water issues, the campus community is rising to meet this challenge.
The project uses a multidisciplinary approach to tackle various aspects of a very real problem. There will be coursework, lecture series, volunteer and extended learning opportunities, exhibitions, panels and various media presentations available to SUNY Oswego students, staff and the community.
All programming will revolve around lack of access to clean water and water quality issues, whether locally or worldwide.
Access to clean water is a problem nationally and internationally. According the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 844 million people do not have access to clean water. Another 2.3 billion don’t have access to a decent toilet. There are many people and organizations looking to rectify those sobering statistics, and SUNY Oswego is joining the fight.
The main goal of the project is to engage students, faculty, staff and the community at large in the global fight to increase access to clean water. Through raising awareness, hands-on work, ingenuity and collaboration, the project aims to change the world in its own back yard and in distant places.
SUNY Oswego faculty and staff are invited to tackle this topic through coursework and co-curricular projects. (For a list of completed and current projects, see related story).
SUNY Oswego will issue mini-grants for staff and faculty who creatively use the Grand Challenge Project in their classrooms and beyond. The SUNY Oswego community will use civic engagement, volunteerism, applied learning projects and other methods to address this issue. The hope is to bring people together from across disciplines and combine their skill sets to find solutions.
“There is a multidisciplinary approach to this challenge, and that is how I think most challenges will be addressed in the future — people coming together across a spectrum of disciplines,” said Leigh Wilson, chairwoman of the Grand Challenge oversight committee.
Although the project doesn’t officially kick off until fall, there has been plenty of programming under way. For example, this past summer, students from a group called “SUNY (Oswego) Stands with Puerto Rico” traveled with other SUNY students to Puerto Rico in order to address clean water issues. These students traveled through a grant from New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and SUNY Chancellor Kristine M. Johnson.
There are plans for additional groups of students to participate in this endeavor.
Other examples of project initiatives include work from SUNY Oswego alumnus Steve Surprenant (’84). Surprenant is a geologist and retired engineer who travels to rural villages to drill wells for people without ready access to clean water. It is his hope that more girls will be able to attend school when they don’t have to spend their days retrieving water. Surprenant will be speaking at the campus in the fall and recruiting students to join him in his endeavors.
From the Office of Student Affairs, to the alumni office, to ARTSwego, to the Shineman Center and all the classrooms in between, students and staff at SUNY Oswego will be embarking on focused initiatives to solve real-life problems.
No matter what discipline a student is engaged in, they will have the opportunity to incorporate the Grand Challenges Project into their college studies. (See related story that provides contacts for those interested in a project.)
Wilson looks forward to the solutions derived from this project.
“We really hope to do a good job of finding solutions to some important water-related problems,” she said. “Lake Ontario — when you look out the window, that’s what you see. We know we are blessed, but others aren’t.”