Education News

Jason Smerdon to Help Direct Sustainable Development Program

2011-07-27
Jason Smerdon

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is excited to welcome professor Jason Smerdon to the Department, where he will serve as interim co-director for the 2011-2012 academic year. Smerdon will co-direct the undergraduate program with Ruth DeFries; Denning Professor of Sustainable Development and professor of ecology, evolution and environmental biology; while Kevin Griffin is on sabbatical.  

Smerdon brings a fresh perspective and an eagerness to build upon the existing structure of the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. “As co-director in the coming year,” says Smerdon, “I look forward to working with co-director Ruth DeFries and our many affiliated colleagues to continue the growth and success of the undergraduate program. Building on the foundation of the current curriculum, we plan to increase the number of courses that are offered, while enhancing our connections to the many relevant academic units on the Columbia campus.”  

Smerdon’s research interests are in assessments of climate variability and change, with a particular focus on using paleoclimate archives and climate models to characterize climate during the last two thousand years. In addition to his more than thirty publications in the scientific literature on these subjects, Smerdon also wrote the student companion to the popular-science book Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future by Edmond Mathez. Smerdon lectures regularly in public settings about paleoclimatology, contemporary global change, and the science and politics of global warming. His work has been recognized through various awards, including the Storke-Doherty Lectureship Award from Columbia University and the First Decade Award for Early Professional Achievement from Gustavus Adolphus College. Since coming to Columbia, Smerdon has also been active in campus sustainability initiatives and supervised the first Sustainability Assessment Report on Barnard College in 2008. In addition to his research and educational activities, Smerdon is also an avid biker and photographer.

Smerdon grew up in Washington State and later moved to Minnesota, where he graduated with a B.A. in physics from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1998. In 2000, he received an M.S. in physics from the University of Michigan, where he later completed a Ph.D. in applied physics in 2004. His doctoral thesis focused on characterizing how interactions between the land and atmosphere generate climate signals in subsurface soils and rocks that are used to reconstruct historical temperature changes at the Earth’s surface extending hundreds to thousands of years into the past. He has been at Columbia University since 2005, when he began as a Lamont Postdoctoral Fellow. Smerdon currently holds an appointment as the Storke-Doherty Lecturer at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He is also a Lamont Assistant Research Professor at the LDEO, and an adjunct assistant professor in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).    

This fall, Smerdon will teach the Introduction to Sustainable Development Seminar, a required course for majors and special concentrators in the undergraduate program. The seminar explores the links between natural and social systems critical to sustainable development, while providing an overview of the sustainable development program. Smerdon says, “The study of sustainable development requires a systemic view of our world and the challenges that it faces, from poverty and public health, management of natural resources, losses of biodiversity, to global climate change.” He believes the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development will equip students to understand such complex challenges and give them the knowledge and skills required to address them. Smerdon brings an expertise and experience lecturing on climate and global change at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Other courses taught by Smerdon at Columbia University include Earth’s Environmental Systems: Climate, in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Climatology, in the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program at SIPA. Undergraduate students will surely benefit from his passion and dedication to research and teaching.

More information on Jason Smerdon’s background and research is available on his website.