PWIAS: Ideas and Impact

August 15, 2021

Since its inception in 2014, the Wall Scholars program at PWIAS has promoted the highest ideals of scholarship, attracting unique thinkers from UBC and beyond. During their year-long residency, Wall Scholars come together, collaborate and challenge themselves to expand their research in new and unexpected ways.

This wide-ranging exploration between disciplines would not happen anywhere else and results in ideas and scholarship that enrich UBC and impact society through ground-breaking research, influential public policy, artistic collaborations and award-winning publications.

PWIAS Wall Scholars have gone on to receive more than $55 million in research funding, including $30.2 million from Canadian Tri-Council research agencies.

Read on for just a few examples of the many ways PWIAS supports scholarship that makes an impact on the most profound issues facing society today.

The Wall Scholars program has been one of the most significant intellectually stimulating and productive parts of my career to date.

Shannon Walsh, 2017 Wall Scholar

Inequities in Higher Education

Michelle Stack was recently recognized by UBC for her contributions to public scholarship. While at PWIAS she convened interdisciplinary working groups to explore how university rankings reinforce inequities in higher education, and how cooperative models can provide affordable and sustainable options for university campuses. (July 2021)

Co-ops provide more democratic and equitable ways of living, working and learning together

Race, Emotional Labour and the University

Ayesha Chaudhry led an interdisciplinary roundtable “Smiling to their faces: Race, emotional labour and the university” which brought national attention to the disproportionate burden placed on racialized academic faculty, and how universities must change their culture to recognize these experiences before they can be exemplars of tolerance and acceptance. (June 2018)

This workshop radically transformed what we imagined not only a workshop could be and do, but also what a college or university might be or do.  This feels truly important. 

Ayesha Chaudhry, 2016 Wall Scholar

Outer Space Institute

Aaron Boley and Michael Byers identified a critical need to address space resource use from a combined political, legal, economic, and scientific perspective, in order to confront the complexities of the new space era.  With PWIAS support, they created the Outer Space Institute (OSI), a network of world-leading experts, to make recommendations to the UN General Assembly on a multilateral agreement on the exploration, exploitation, and utilization of space resources. (November 2018)

The Vancouver Recommendations on Space Mining were adopted by OSI in April 2020. Photo by NASA

Detecting Food Fraud in Canada

Xiaonan Lu developed a potentially transformative tool for detecting food fraud in Canada – his method to identify unwanted animal products in ground beef can determine within 5 minutes and with 99 percent accuracy whether ground beef samples included other animal parts. (November 2017)

What other animal products are in your ground beef?

Links Between Human Health & the Built Environment

Michael Brauer expanded his research on the linkages between the built environment and human health. He attributes the Wall Scholar program for providing the interdisciplinary perspective to push his work into new directions, with specific interest in transportation-related and biomass air pollution.
(November 2019)

Air pollution in large urban centres is a silent killer

New Framework for Biodiversity

William Cheung organized the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) Scenarios and Models working group at PWIAS in 2019.  These international experts proposed recommendations for a new framework for biodiversity and ecosystem services management. (March 2019)

We know that biodiversity is under threat, but we’re trying to broaden the conversation about what biodiversity actually means to people.

Improving Post-Disaster Recovery

Sara Shneiderman expanded her research to a new interdisciplinary project on post-disaster recovery processes around the world.  With PWIAS support, she assembled an international team which received a 3-year Partnership Development Grant to build research capacity in Canada and Nepal in order to investigate and improve post-disaster reconstruction. (November 2019)

Reconstruction site in Dhading, Nepal. Photo by Sara Shneiderman.

Diversity in Mathematics

Malabika Pramanik created the Diversity in Mathematics Summer School, an outreach student program to inspire young women in STEM fields. She recruited the enthusiastic participation of Malebogo Ngoepe, PWIAS visiting scholar from Cape Town, South Africa, who returned to UBC in summer 2019 to take part. (August 2019)

[The Wall Scholars program] has given me a unique perspective of research, not through the lens of specialization, but as a component in a cohesive whole that represents human knowledge.

Malabika Pramanik, 2018 Wall Scholar

For more in this series, please visit PWIAS: Connections and Collaborations and PWIAS: Page by Page.