PSU Launches Research Centers To 'Change The World'



PSU Launches Research Centers To 'Change The World'

It’s not often a university suggests a new research effort could potentially change the world. PSU says two of its own might.

“Both of these centers have the potential for literally changing the world, and I don’t say that casually,” said Mark McLellan, PSU’s vice president of research.

The two centers are the PSU Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative, co-led by professors in the urban planning and public health disciplines, and the PSU Digital City Testbed Center, led by a geology professor. Both centers boast at least 20 faculty members as part of a multi-disciplinary effort to use research to confront big urban problems. PSU leaders have pledged $3 million in startup funding to cover the centers’ first three years.

Marisa Zapata, associate professor of urban studies & planning, will co-direct the homelessness center. She said efforts start with an examination of homelessness among students and staff at PSU. Zapata said the center will also challenge community assumptions about the complicated issues around housing insecurity.

“We know that most people agree that homelessness is one of the most pressing issues in our country and in Portland today,” Zapata said. “However, we disagree about why homelessness exists and how to solve it.”

Zapata said the homelessness center will support PSU faculty who are involved in designing and building solutions for people who lack shelter, such as temporary villages. The center faculty will also study budget options aimed at making best use of limited public and private dollars. Zapata said some solutions are known to help, but need further vetting on the ground. 

“I think we know that there are a lot of good solutions out there, but because we haven’t fully invested in them, we don’t know that they’re actually going to work,” Zapata said.

While the PSU Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative is focused on the complicated social issue of homelessness, the other center seeks to explore the many interactions between technology and urban communities. 

“What we plan to do with this center is look at the issues of how technology affects cities — how it affects city operations, but also the lives of residents of cities,” said center Director Jon Fink.

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