Thomas J. Baerwald
National Science Foundation
Title: Facilitating the Conduct of Naturally Humane and Humanely Natural Research
Abstract: "Nature don't know disciplinary boundaries!" Uttered by a scientist during a meeting at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1991, this comment helped plant the seeds for what emerged a more than a decade later as the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program. CNH spans the biological sciences, geosciences, and social and behavioral sciences and is NSF's first multidirectorate program spanning. Drawing on more than two decades of experience at NSF, including service in both the social and behavioral sciences and the geosciences directorate, development of CNH, coordination of NSF global change activities, and a broad range of other relevant activities, the speaker will provide an overview of CNH's development. In addition, he will talk more broadly about opportunities for and challenges of supporting and conducting interdisciplinary research that aims to enhance both basic and practical knowledge regarding or world and the people who inhabit it. Among the issues he will discuss are approaches to identifying topics and research approaches to encourage and support (including top-down vs. bottom-up and hybrid approaches) and the implications of different funding strategies (ranging from allowing thousands of flowers to bloom, flexible research campaigns, and tightly focused research programs). More specific challenges facing researchers who seek to collaborate on coupled natural and human systems research will be addressed, including the challenges of building trust, finding common language, drawing on and integrating theories from different communities, protecting human subjects, and overcoming other barriers to effective collaboration. The speaker will try to minimize the misuse of metaphors, but reference to forests, trees, elephants, and trading zones still are likely to escape his lips.
About: Thomas J. Baerwald serves as Senior Science Advisor in the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. In that capacity, he assumes a number of major responsibilities. He is one of two program directors for the Geography and Regional Science Program. He also is a coordinator for environmental social and behavioral science activities, assisting in the conduct of multidisciplinary efforts that engage social and behavioral scientists in the studies of interactions among human and natural systems. From 2001 to 2007, he was a Co-Coordinator of the NSF Biocomplexity in the Environment special competition on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH), and in 2008, he was the lead program officer for a standing, multidirectorate CNH Program. He has served as a member of the NSF Working Group on Environmental Research and Education since 2001, and from 2003 to 2008, he has been active in the conduct of NSF's Human and Social Dynamics interdisciplinary competitions.
Baerwald has worked at NSF since 1988, serving as Geography and Regional Science Program Director, Acting Director of the Division for Social and Economic Sciences, Interim Director for the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, Coordinator for NSF Global Change Research Activities, and Deputy Assistant Director for the Geosciences. Prior to his service at NSF, Baerwald established and directed the Geography Department at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. He has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College, and he is co-author of a secondary school world regional geography textbook.
Baerwald earned a B.A. in geography and history from Valparaiso University and both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in geography at the University of Minnesota. Back in "the good old days" when he conducted basic research of his own, Baerwald specialized in studies of contemporary metropolitan development processes and urban transportation.
Baerwald has been an active member of a number of professional societies. He served three-year terms on the Council of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), first as West Lakes Regional Councillor from 1985 to 1988 and as later as a National Councillor from 2003 to 2006. Baerwald has been elected to serve as Vice President of the AAG from July 2006 to June 2007 and as President from July 2007 to June 2008. Baerwald served on the Executive Board of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) from 1987 to 1989, and he chaired long-range planning committees of both the AAG and NCGE.
Baerwald has been elected as a Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. He has received Distinguished Service Honors from the Association of American Geographers and an Alumni Achievement Award from Valparaiso University. He also has received a Director's Superior Accomplishment Award from the National Science Foundation.