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Understanding environment with art and science

Photo by WSU Photo Services.

He is a professor in the Department of Sociology, distinguished professor of natural resource and environmental policy in the Thomas F. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, affiliated professor of fine arts, affiliated professor of environmental science, and faculty associate in the Center for Integrated Biology — and he is a world-renown environmental scholar whose work assesses the risks of societal environmental impacts.

To say that Eugene Rosa, presenter of the Distinguished Faculty Address, is an accomplished man might be an understatement; yet, somehow, he remains modest.

“The deepest value my parents instilled in me is the importance of modesty,” he said. “Simply put, ‘Don’t become a hotdog over your accomplishments!’ ”

There’s no denying the impact of those accomplishments. 

His interest in social dimensions of societal risk began in graduate school during the first oil crisis in the 1970s. It spread to include assessing risks associated with operator error in nuclear control rooms and investigating human error possibilities for various NASA flight activities — among other things. 

As his research goals provide advances for public policy and service, it should come as no surprise that he devotes time to agencies outside the academy.  He is serving a three-year term on the National Academy of Sciences Natural Research Council (NAS/NRC) standing committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and the NAS/NRC committee on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration new sectors applications research program.   

Rosa’s also an artist. As a faculty member in the Department of Fine Arts, he presents his works every two years in the faculty show. He describes his art as “ecolage” — a collection of refuse turned into social commentary.

“(The art) is a lens for focusing on the possibilities for our junk,” Rosa said in his artist’s statement. “It is a consciousness about the ecological consequences of rearranging the ordinary and the discarded (our technological garbage) with artistic creativity.”

His art work “is at the same time witty and engaging, while often dealing with important environmental issues,” said Carol S. Ivory, professor and chair in fine arts. “Gene Rosa is truly a Renaissance man in the breadth of his interests, talents and contributions to each of our lives.”

His next challenge is to present the March 23 Distinguished Faculty Address.

“I am less interested in highlighting my own accomplishments and more interested in  highlighting the accomplishment of the social science programs at WSU, while trying to make the address accessible to the wider audience,” he said, “ — my goal is to make it exciting and engaging!”

No small feat — but somehow it seems doable for a man like Rosa.

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