Taking a step toward integrating sustainability into its curriculum, Harvey Mudd College hired Tanja Srebotnjak as the inaugural Hixon Professor of Sustainable Environmental Design.
Responsibilities of the new professorship are threefold: teaching, conducting research and founding the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design. The Hixon Center, developed and funded along with the professorship by the Hixon family, will serve as a meeting point for faculty members, students and even non-5C individuals interested in sustainability.
Srebotnjak said that both the professorship and the center, which will begin its work in 2015, aim to “take sustainability focus and practice more to the forefront of the college’s education.”
“The sciences are all, in some ways, already connecting to sustainability, but I’d like to make those connections more visible, more tangible,” she added.
The Hixons, including Adelaide Hixon and her grandson Dylan Hixon, an HMC trustee, have funded various initiatives throughout the years, such as a visiting professorship and scholarships. Adelaide Hixon established Srebotnjak’s professorship in 2013 in memory of her husband, although the Hixons had been developing the concept of the center and professorship for about three years, Dylan Hixon wrote in an email to TSL.
“We wanted a focus for the study of sustainability at Harvey Mudd,” he wrote. “There is a lot of good work and attention on campus towards the issue, but no dedicated program or entity to focus the effort.”
The college’s recruitment firm decided to reach out to Srebotnjak because of her long experience working with sustainability. A statistician by training, Srebotnjak has a deep interest in sustainability and has previously worked for the United Nations and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.
Srebotnjak, who has been trained in biostatistics and environmental statistics, focuses on using statistical methods to evaluate environmental performance, according to the college’s website. Most recently, she worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council after building and managing the California office of the Ecologic Institute as its senior fellow. She will begin working at HMC in January 2015.
“Tanja fits the bill perfectly,” wrote Jeffrey Groves, HMC vice president and dean of faculty, in an email to TSL. “We were looking for someone with an extensive research record, someone who could work well with others and be a leader for sustainability, and someone who would bring to the position insights from outside of academia.”
Srebotnjak said that she was interested in taking the job based on HMC’s preeminence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the alignment of the position’s responsibilities with her interests and the opportunity to work in academia.
Groves noted that the professorship will have a 5C impact and that Srebotnjak has already been discussing plans with faculty members in the 5C environmental analysis program.
“She will bring a welcome sensibility and disciplinary background in statistics into that community,” he wrote.
Dylan Hixon commented on his goals for both the center and the new professorship in confronting environmental issues.
“We hope that students will appreciate a wide, cross-cutting approach to this important problem,” he wrote. “We also hope that the concept of design will inspire the ingenuity of the famously skillful Mudders to craft intentional, thoughtful, and practical solutions.”
Update: This article was updated Oct. 31 to include additional information about Srebotnjak’s professorship.