Written by: Amanda Mei
Program Director Alark Saxena has been accorded the 2018 Inspiring Yale Award. The Graduate and Professional Student Senate recognized Alark for his interdisciplinary work as associate research scientist and lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Joined by faculty representatives of the 13 graduate and professional schools at Yale, Alark received the award on April 11 at a well-attended event in Lei Zhang Auditorium of the School of Management.
In nominations of Alark for the award, students at the Yale School of Forestry commented, “Young, dynamic, with refreshing approach and expertise in systems thinking, [Alark] is really the future of this school.”
At the event, the F&ES graduate representative of the senate introduced Alark as a person who “works to ensure that those relationships people and their forests can persist and grow in sustainable and ethical ways that will be resilient to a quickly changing climate.”
Alark is currently teaching two graduate courses that push the boundaries between disciplines. One teaches students how to build resilience in vulnerable communities around the world, and the other shows students how to model complex systems. The courses enroll students from across the graduate schools at Yale, representing history, public health, law, architecture, divinity, and international relations, in addition to environmental studies.
“We very quickly realize that the world that we live in is complex, it’s dynamic, and it’s evolving,” Alark said in his acceptance speech. “Solutions that come out of a single disciplinary approach, which do not understand the complexity, naturally create more problems than solutions.”
Alark used the platform to advocate for interdisciplinary solutions to global problems. Noting societal challenges such as mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing biodiversity loss, Alark encouraged members of the audience to be curious about the approaches of other disciplines to the issues. He urged students to reach out to one another by first being humble and then learning to ask for help.
In an interview following the event, Alark noted that solutions to complex problems can only come when people move beyond their comfortable spaces and collaborate with others. Notwithstanding barriers such as differences in methodology and academic rigor, Alark said that universities such as Yale must create interdisciplinary as well as safe spaces for researchers to do such collaborative work. The spaces would enable the researchers to model and replicate solutions to global problems facing the current and future generations. Currently, the Yale Himalaya Initiative represents such a space.
“This is exactly what we are trying to do at [Yale Himalaya Initiative] — creating an interdisciplinary space for people from the humanities to the sciences,” Alark said.
According to the honoree, Inspiring Yale was another opportunity to bring together academics from across disciplines to share in each other’s work. Alark said that he wished he had been able to attend such an event when he was a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry.
The Inspiring Yale Award, launched in 2015, aims to recognize the discoveries and accomplishments of faculty members across Yale’s graduate and professional schools. Each year, the event brings people together to celebrate the work of researchers such as Alark, who inspire collaboration between disciplines.