Global Scholarship and Public Engagement: Professor Ivanova’s Role(s) in Environmental Governance

When discussing how global governance and academic scholarship overlap in fulfillment of social and environmental change, Professor Maria Ivanova cites the power of and necessity for globally engaged scholarship. An academic working on global environmental governance, she recently served on the Rwandan delegation to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya that convened in February and March 2022. Rwanda and Peru led the political process for the Resolution “End Plastic Pollution : Towards a legally binding instrument, ”which governments adopted in Nairobi.

Ivanova’s work in Rwanda began in 2018 as part of UMass Boston’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, which received a $ 3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. As a Co-Principal Investigator, she co-taught a class on African environmental issues and co-led a group of 30 UMass Boston students and faculty on a trip to Rwanda, where they forged meaningful collaborations with local authorities. Ivanova has continued to work with various government agencies in Rwanda, and in 2022, this substantive, long-term engagement led to an invitation to join the country’s delegation to the UNEA.

The presence of an academic at the UNEA was noteworthy, as Ivanova was the only academic on a government delegation at the UNEA. She acknowledged that governmental delegations often recruit and rely on academic input to inform policymaking in climate change negotiations, but this has not traditionally been the case for the UNEA. She said, “It was great to see what was happening and to be that academic in the delegation of a small state, which was negotiating and leading on a very big global problem.” Rwanda contributed to shifting the traditional conceptualization of plastic pollution as a marine debris problem to a focus on the full lifecycle of plastics and was an early player in re-assessing our commercial relationship to plastics, banning plastic bags in 2008 and single-use plastics in 2019. Rwanda’s negotiations with Peru on climate change, and particularly plastics, reflect the role of multilateralism in affecting positive global change while emphasizing the role that small nations can play on global levels

Ivanova’s presence at the UNEA is a testament to her commitment to merging scholarship and practice and reflects her position that to separate the two is an impossibility. Such an integration is standard practice at the McCormack Graduate School. As she explained, “As a school of public policy, … McCormack is not only a place that allows engaged scholarship to happen; it expects engaged scholarship to happen. This is the norm. This is the expectation. This is the aspiration at McCormack, and this is what drew me here, 12 years ago, and this is what continues to inspire me. ”

In 2010, Ivanova joined UMass Boston as a faculty member as part of the former Provost Winston Langley’s vision to create a program on human security. The framework for the doctoral program in Global Governance and Human Security at the McCormack Graduate School, as Ivanova noted, aligns with the definition of human security as the “ability of humans to lead healthy and productive lives in harmony with nature.” The PhD program combines the goal of human security — the “what?” – with the practice of global governance — the “how?”

Ivanova’s commitment to “fundamentally engaging students and scholarships within the world of academia as well as engaging them in the outside world that we inhabit” has informed her academic and policy work, as well as her administrative work as Director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability and the Director of the PhD Program in Global Governance and Human Security in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance. In these roles, she is committed to preparing students for their future careers as thought leaders in important areas of policy and governance by engaging them in real-world experiences related to policymaking and social and environmental change.

Indeed, Ivanova’s pedagogy is deeply invested in the successes and opportunities of students at the McCormack Graduate School. Also present at the UN Environment Program alongside Ivanova were McCormack Graduate School PhD students Meg Hassey, Brian Harding, and Wondwossen Sintayehu. Meg Hassey’s engagement aligned with the objectives of the delegation, as her current dissertation work is on plastics. “So, you see,” Ivanova said, “that our PhD students are already embedded and engaged in this.” Opportunities for academic work to move beyond the walls of the University so that scholars can become “embedded and engaged” in the real world that they operate and exist within inspires and drives Ivanova as an educator. As she summarized, “This is … what fuels my passion: the ability to engage academia into the governance field and to encourage young people to both gain knowledge and practice in learning about and addressing environmental problems.”


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