The School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech hosted the annual Ridenour Faculty Fellowship Conference on March 24 and 25. The first day of the event took place at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center, while the second day took place at the Thomas-Conner House.
This year, the central theme of the conference was to explore trust in government, and the School of Public and International Affairs invited several noteworthy guest speakers to discuss this matter, including Marc Edwards, a Charles P. Lunsford professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech.
The first speaker of the event, Edwards, who has pursued science as a public good throughout the years, is known for investigating the D.C. Lead Crisis in 2001 and the Flint Water Crisis in 2015 with his research team; his team discovered that iron and lead corrosion in the water of Flint, Michigan, affected 100,000 residents for more than a year.
Edwards shared his experience of fighting against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect people in D.C. and Flint on the first day of the event and used his first accounts to allude that there is still hope in government practices.
“We avoided a catastrophe by getting the state to mobilize, and the governor to apologize. You got a bottle of water. There's a filter in there to protect the kids just when the lead was really starting to come off,” Edward said. “This (Flint Water Crisis) would have been a disaster, but it was a success.”
Edwards participated in a discussion panel about the role of academics and scientists in the public arena following his speech with panelists: Jonah Fogel, adjunct professor of the Center for Public Administration and Policy and director of the land use education program at Virginia Tech, Max Stephenson, professor in the School of Public and International Affairs and director of the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech, and Susan Sterett, professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech.
Later in the day following lunch, Virgil Wood, former dean of the African American Institute at Northeastern University, fires up a conversation about the nation's economy and believes that the government can be doing more for the public's sake.
“I'd like to suggest that if there is something exceptional about America,” Wood said, "It is the possibility that we can show the world how to have a beloved community and a beloved economy, so that's what (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) said his dream was, that 'people everywhere could have three meals a day without blood on their bread, without having to sell their soul.'"
Wood is a church leader, educator and civil rights activist. He committed much of his life’s work to the struggle for economic and spiritual development among the nation’s disadvantaged. Wood is a former associate of Martin Luther King Jr., and he worked alongside King for 10 years.
The event closed on day one of the event with Joyce Rothschild, professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, and Christian Matheis, visiting assistant professor of government and international affairs at Virginia Tech, who discussed the future of work and income in an era of economic inequality. On day two of the event Foreman provided lasting remarks, giving the High Table lecture about his public affairs research odyssey and wrapped the event off in a neutral manner.
This event combined two great traditions: the Ridenour Faculty Fellowship and the High Table Celebration in the Center for Public Administration and Policy.
The Ridenour Faculty Fellowship was initiated by the school of Public and International Affairs to honor Minnis Ridenour’s service to Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia, helping scholars gain a different perspective on problem solving, and the High Table Celebration was adopted by the Center for Public Administration and Policy to bring faculty and students together for a meal to listen to a lecture by a distinguished scholar.
Anne Khademian, director of the School of Public and International Affairs, stressed that there is no greater time to unite as a student body than the present.
“This is a time for us to all come together and focus on a common topic that we can use our different forms of expertise and live (and) learn from each other about key challenges,” Khademian said. “It's also an opportunity for us to connect with the rest of the university, and to really stimulate our thinking around problem solving from an interdisciplinary perspective.”