Hofstra in early stages of Coastlines and People proposal for National Science Foundation

Dr. Bret Bennington, professor and chairman of the Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability at Hofstra University, is working with faculty across campus to develop plans for a Coastlines and People grant proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation. Above, Bennington speaking at the Feb. 24 research mixer. // Photo by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

By Megan Naftali

As climate change concerns rise, 24 Hofstra University faculty members from 15 departments will be working this year on a Coastlines and People grant proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation.

The CoPe program has a total anticipated funding amount of $28 million and an estimated five to eight awards for institutions of higher education and non-profit, non-academic organizations.

According to the NSF, “The objective of this solicitation is to support Coastal Research Hubs, structured using a convergent science approach, at the nexus between coastal sustainability, human dimensions and coastal processes to transform understanding of interactions among natural, human-built and social systems in coastal, populated environments.”

Last December, Dr. Bret Bennington, professor and chair of the Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability at Hofstra, was asked to work with Dr. Jase Bernhardt, an assistant professor in the same department, to develop a CoPe proposal.

“The grant proposal would fund turning Hofstra into a research hub for studying the impacts of climate change on coastal communities on Long Island,” Bennington said. “That would involve research collaborations between faculty on campus, but even more collaborations between Hofstra and other colleges and universities, local governments, faith-based groups, community organizations [and] basically the public in general.”

On Feb. 24, the “Sustainability and Climate Resilience: Science, Policy and the Public” research mixer was held at the Leo A. Guthart Hall for Innovation and Discovery, where Bennington, Bernhardt and five other Hofstra professors discussed how their individual fields would play roles in the initiative, if the university’s grant proposal, due at the end of the year, were approved. The departments represented at the mixer included GES, religion, biology, philosophy and accounting.

After Bennington introduced the proposal at the mixer, Julie Byrne, a professor in the Department of Religion, said one of the strongest community ties on Long Island is people’s houses of worship and shared her pitch for the proposal.

“The pitch is a Hofstra interfaith climate action group, a team of undergraduate interns from different faith backgrounds or no faith backgrounds, who we mentor to develop programs of outreach to the youth groups in the houses of worship on Long Island,” Byrne said.

Bernhardt discussed his academic background in physical science while emphasizing the importance of social science in the proposal, as well.

Dr. Jase Bernhardt, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability at Hofstra, is working closely with Bennington to develop the proposal. // Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

“I was mostly on the physical science side looking at the science of weather phenomena or climate change, not anything with social science in humans,” Bernhardt said. “I did get involved with one study in graduate school looking at Twitter and people’s tweets during a tornado outbreak. It got me thinking to fully understand society, we’re going to need to start looking at the other half of things, not just looking at the weather, but looking at how it impacts people.”

At Hofstra, Bernhardt has experimented with virtual reality, saying it is an impactful way to show people what different types of severe weather are like. The first project was a hurricane simulation, and now Bernhardt is working on a rip current simulation. The simulations require both coding and graphic design.

“VR is better than just a video game on a computer screen because the [person] is completely [immersed] in it,” Bernhardt said. “Through back-end computer code, it evaluates whether they escaped the rip current, if they fought it and how long it took.”

Because of Covid-19, VR community outreach projects have been difficult to perform, but Bernhardt said he plans to continue the programs soon.

“Hopefully this summer with Covid-19 getting better, we can go back out in the community with the rip current VR simulation going to beaches to help people be better aware of what a rip current is and what to do if you get caught in one,” Bernhardt said.

The Feb. 24 research mixer was a chance for faculty to discuss the proposal in a casual atmosphere. // Photos by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

Also at the mixer, Kathleen Wallace, professor and chairwoman of the Philosophy Department, talked about ethics and justice related issues to climate change and how ethics is on an individual level and justice is on a societal level.

“We talk about ethics and how [people] think about the kinds of lives they’re living and the kinds of choices they make and then also talk about justice, which has to do with fairness at a societal level, like are the policies fair? Are solutions to climate change problems treating communities affected in equitable and fair ways?” Wallace said.

Richard Jones and Kathleen Bakarich, both assistant professors of accounting, taxation and legal studies in business, discussed greenwashing in environmental reports issued by corporations that are supposed to be evaluating their performance and how they are affecting the environment. Greenwashing is a form of marketing designed to disguise a company’s negative effect on the environment. Jones and Bakarich said rules will be coming out as they work on standardizing the reports.

Hofstra departments involved in developing the CoPe grant proposal include GES, geography, psychology, philosophy, religion, engineering, biology, chemistry, English, journalism, writing studies, sociology, rhetoric, math and education.

The proposal is due this coming December, and a response is expected by May next year, according to Bennington.

“The most important thing is that whatever we end up doing with this project is going to involve the community in lots of different ways,” Bennington said. “All of our activities will be done in partnerships with the coastal communities that we’re working in and studying, and there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for people outside of Hofstra to become involved.”