The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences (SLES) at Minzu University in China recently formalized a partnership for innovative research in the growing field of ethnobiology, which looks at the relationship between people, biodiversity and the environment . CERC's mission, “... to build environmental leadership and to solve complex problems, in order to stem the loss of biological diversity and achieve environmental sustainability,” makes it an ideal partner for SLES as it strives to promote scholarship and leadership in the field of ethnobiology.
Minzu University is the top institution of higher education for Chinese ethnic minorities, which make up 70 percent of its student body, and it has a diverse faculty. CERC’s director of international programs, Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, stated that “CERC and its constituent organizations now have a great opportunity to work in a true partnership with a very exceptional and prestigious Chinese university and to learn from the many cultures and environments that the students and faculty of Minzu University represent. I have no doubt that the CERC-SLES partnership will benefit many students and scientists of both Columbia and Minzu universities.”
Minzu is engaged in the implementation of a research and training program known as Ethnobiology Innovation Base (EIB), which was initiated in January 2008 in order to develop and enhance curricula in applied ethnoscience through collaborations with foreign academic scholars. This program, funded by the Chinese government, is part of a larger, innovative and ambitious academic program called Program 111, which seeks to introduce a thousand foreign academic scholars from 100 top universities throughout the world to work on 100 academic subjects in selected Chinese universities.
According to a talk written by Charles Peters and delivered by Pinedo-Vasquez during the CERC-SLES partnership memo of understanding signing ceremony, “The EIB program in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences was developed to promote the study of ethnobiology – and to train the next generation of practitioners. This includes training teachers as well as students at the master’s and Ph.D. level.” It will help cultivate the formation of a new type of professional leader who is skilled in the use, conservation and sustainable management of China’s biological resources, particularly plant species in heavily minority-inhabited regions of China such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces.
The newly formalized research alliance between SLES and CERC will be an extension of work already underway through the EIB program. Currently, the EIB team of foreign academics is composed of a multidisciplinary group of scientists from institutions including Columbia University, the New York Botanical Garden (a member of the CERC Consortium), the City University of New York, the Wildlife Trust and Yale University. The partnership between CERC and SLES builds on the shared commitment to research, conservation, policy development and training at both organizations, and it provides great long-term potential for programs such as student exchanges for master’s and Ph.D. candidates, the development of co-advised graduate theses, and further interdisciplinary faculty research in sustainable resource use in China.