New research institutes at U of T Scarborough will tackle important global challenges

iRISE will include three founding institutes and one institutional strategic initiative that support research to pursue solutions and catalyze change
land valley trail leading up to the university of toronto campus

(photo by Moussa Faddoul)

A new tri-campus unit hosted at the University of Toronto Scarborough will aim to address societal challenges related to health, the economy and the environment.

Called iRISE (Institutes for Resilient and Inclusive Societies and Ecosystems), the extra-departmental unit has been confirmed by the executive committee of U of T’s Governing Council and comprises three research-focused founding institutes and one institutional strategic initiative (ISI).

“iRISE provides an opportunity to intentionally bring together U of T’s outstanding scholarly strengths under a shared umbrella to address the intersecting complexities related to the environment, health and well-being, and sustainable economies and livelihoods," says Professor Wisdom Tettey, U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough.

"We look forward to leveraging the synergies and networks that it will foster, to further enhance and amplify the global impact of the exceptional work that is going on across our three campuses.”

iRISE will support multidisciplinary convergence research – research that shows deep integration across disciplines and is driven by a pressing societal need.

“iRISE will pursue solutions and catalyze change by facilitating research discoveries, enabling innovators to move discoveries into action, inspiring communities and building their capacity to act,” says Professor Irena Creed, U of T Scarborough vice-principal research and innovation.

“It will also train future leaders dedicated to creating inclusive, sustainable, just and equitable societies.”

The three founding institutes of iRISE include the Institute for Environment, Conservation and Sustainability; the Institute for Inclusive Health and Well-Being; and the Institute for Inclusive Economies and Sustainable Livelihoods. 

iRISE will also be home to SDGs@U of T, an ISI that was approved in May.

Imre Szeman (supplied image)

Imre Szeman, professor of human geography at U of T Scarborough, is the inaugural director for the Institute for Environment, Conservation and Sustainability, which will explore the causes and consequences of climate change and develop mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Its potential research themes include interactions among plants, soil, water and air; the effects of climate change from the cellular to the ecosystem levels; ecological restoration; environmental sustainability; nature-based climate solutions; carbon markets; Indigenous perspectives on the natural world; and understanding the Earth through the exploration of other planets.

The Institute for Inclusive Economies and Sustainable Livelihoods is led by inaugural director Sergio Montero – associate professor of geography and planning at U of T Scarborough – who takes the reins from interim director Caroline Hossein, associate professor of global development at U of T Scarborough and cross-appointed to U of T's graduate program of political science. 

Sergio Montero (supplied image)

This institute will imagine, explore and share alternative economic futures from unique perspectives. Its potential research themes include alternative and cooperative economic practices of Indigenous and racialized communities; data science methods for greater, more equitable prosperity; training and skills development strategies that encourage personal and economic development; advanced understanding of the complex interdependencies among nations, localities and economic agents to facilitate more transparent decision-making.

Interim director Charles Trick, a professor of health and society at U of T Scarborough, will lead the Institute for Inclusive Health and Well-Being, which will explore the many determinants of health of people living in the Anthropocene.

Charles Trick (supplied image)

Potential research themes include fundamental science explorations of aging, elder care and mental health; policy and program pathways to change health inequities; innovative solutions to complex health issues, including arts-based health approaches; and translating knowledge of the relationship between environment factors and well-being into practice and policy.

SDGs@UofT is being led by director Erica Di Ruggiero, associate professor in the division of social and behavioural health sciences at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and in the Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation.

Erica Di Ruggiero (supplied image)

The ISI will be dedicated to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – global targets to end poverty, improve health and education, reduce inequality, spur economic growth and tackle climate change. 

Through its SDGs Scholars Academy, SDGs@UofT will conduct convergence research that will identify transition pathways to achieving the SDGs, measure progress, explore interdependencies and design instruments and interventions to build on the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Creed notes that hundreds of faculty, staff and students provided input that influenced the development of iRISE and its institutes. As iRISE continues to evolve, there will be ongoing opportunities for the U of T community to be involved in shaping its future directions. Directors will engage with faculty and students via one-on-one discussions and in departmental meetings. 

Membership is open to faculty across U of T. Creed says that iRISE will be particularly beneficial to faculty, staff and students wishing to reach across academic units and institutions to build collaborations and partnerships that engage diverse communities, governments and industries.

“The iRISE directors will lead a vibrant intellectual community that will facilitate local and global partnerships and enable the nimble exploration, development and implementation of solutions,” she said.