The university has announced the launch of the first Cornell Global Grand Challenge, with the theme of Migrations: Researching, Teaching and Building for a World on the Move.

‘Migrations’ is theme of Cornell’s first Global Grand Challenge

Our world and the people, ideas and things that inhabit it are in constant motion – from migrants fleeing oppression to birds heading to breeding grounds to farmers relocating as climate change destroys their lands and livelihoods.

“The unprecedented pace, scale and complexity of movement on our planet – of humans, plants, animals, cultural messages and artifacts, resources, pathogens and more – present a diverse suite of challenges and opportunities that play out across local, regional, national and international scales,” said Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs.

With that in mind, the university has announced the launch of the first Cornell Global Grand Challenge, with the theme of Migrations: Researching, Teaching and Building for a World on the Move. The theme was chosen based on dialogues during and after the Global Grand Challenges Symposium, held last November on the Ithaca campus.

The Cornell community is invited to a discussion of the migrations theme Oct. 1, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Wolford believes that Cornell is “uniquely poised” to be a leader in the study of global migrations.

“We are already distinctive in the expertise we have across the university, with faculty and students studying and teaching migrations from different perspectives,” she said. “This Global Grand Challenge is intended to elevate this expertise, enabling people to work together across disciplines, spatiotemporal scales and socio-ecological contexts.”

Over the past eight months, a task force of 16 faculty members, representing nine colleges and schools, developed recommendations outlining what the migrations initiative will encompass at Cornell. Task force co-chairs are Shannon Gleeson, associate professor of labor relations, law and history; Amanda Rodewald, the Garvin Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and senior director of conservation science at the Lab of Ornithology; and Eric Tagliacozzo, professor of history.

“The deep evolutionary and historical roots of human and nonhuman migrations mean that they reflect and record changes in cultures, climates, economies and other environments,” Tagliacozzo said. “Each has its own distribution of resources and power that shapes inequality and well-being.”

The task force identified three core principles to outline its approach to migrations:

  • incorporation of socio-environmental dynamics and complexity;
  • recognition of multiple spatiotemporal and hierarchical scales; and
  • attention to the roles of governance, democracy and authority.

“We contend that these three cross-cutting themes are critical to any migration studies agenda that takes seriously the impacts of the natural and built environments on human behavior, and the relationship between people, other species and the migration trends that often tie them together,” Gleeson said. “Our intention is to widen the lens through which we approach scholarship, engagement and application.”

The migrations initiative challenges scholars and practitioners to work across disciplines, time and space, as well as a range of academic and career stages and institutional units and boundaries.

“Our infrastructure, urban design, housing stock, disaster relief programs, legal frameworks, business models and international geopolitical systems need to accommodate the dynamic movements of human and nonhuman species and ways of thinking and relating to each other and the world,” Rodewald said. “Only through an interdisciplinary, multi-species and systems-level perspective can we understand and anticipate the causes and consequences of migrations for people and the planet.”

The migrations initiative will:

  • support cutting-edge research, teaching and engagement on migrations, and nurture collaboration across academic disciplines;
  • integrate and synthesize existing disciplinary contributions; and
  • build an interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in the Study of Migrations, whether virtual or physical.

“With their capacity in research, teaching and engagement, universities will play an important role in preparing future leaders, artists, scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and community members to tackle the challenges of a world on the move,” Wolford said. “Cornell is a world-recognized leader in a number of fields that all weigh in on migrations, including the humanities, law, social sciences and life sciences. Bringing our experts together, and supporting new research, teaching and engagement at the intersection of these fields will improve our work, generate new insights into critical problems, provide a stronger evidence basis for policy, and place Cornell at the fore of migration studies around the world.”

Activities of the initiative throughout fall 2019 and spring 2020 will include lunch seminars from faculty, staff and students working on migrations-related topics; a call for postdoctoral scholars; and competitive grants for research, conferences, workshops, student learning opportunities, outreach and engagement.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli