Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Participates in Black Thriving Initiative Faculty Cluster Hiring Proposal

Sunny Jiang (left) and Christopher Olivares are leading the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s efforts in the UCI Black Thriving Initiative Faculty Cluster Hiring Program.

July 13, 2021 – The Samueli School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) is part of the multidisciplinary team that won funding under the UCI Black Thriving Initiative Faculty Cluster Hiring Program. First announced last fall by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, the program is a competitive multiyear effort to recruit faculty who interrogate structural racism in its myriad forms.

The winning proposal, addressing environmental health disparities, involved three schools and four departments: CEE; environmental and occupational health; anthropology; and health, society and behavior. The provost received a total of 17 proposals, representing approximately 100 faculty, 31 departments, and across all schools.

The Black-thriving cluster hire focused on environmental health disparities will advance the university’s impact in addressing systemic anti-Blackness by recruiting new faculty and building on existing faculty strengths. CEE’s Sunny Jiang, professor and department chair, and Christopher Olivares, assistant professor, are among the eight-member faculty team who developed the proposal.

“Environmental engineering is an integral part of this initiative,” said Jiang. “Building a self-sustainable center of environmental health disparity at UCI to promote the research and education in this important area is the main goal of our proposal. We are excited that campus will allocate for full-time equivalent cluster hiring at each of the participating departments to focus on the common goal of promoting research and education in Black-thriving initiatives.”

The project aims to foster multidisciplinary collaborations that seek to understand and address the ways in which environmental stress and racism contribute to health disparities in Black communities. “Reckoning with these issues as part of engineering design and research is our responsibility so that the future of engineering is truly equitable,” said Olivares.

The proposal includes collaboration on interschool training and education opportunities designed to improve the success of Black graduate and undergraduate students and build the foundation to seek extramural funding for a center focused on environmental health disparities.

Specifically, the CEE department hopes to hire an assistant/associate professor with a research and educational focus on water quality and water resource allocation for Black communities. Poor water quality is inequitable for low-income communities, with sewage contamination of public water environments, proximity to waste fields or deteriorating water infrastructure. These communities are often home to economically disadvantaged populations of color due to lower land costs and racial discriminatory policies, such as redlining.

“The project reflects the vision and attendant planning that the Black Thriving Cluster Hiring Program was designed to encourage and support,” stated Provost Hal Stern in an email to staff. “I thank the authors of the proposal for their willingness to advance our mission along the lines specified in their proposal.”

The environmental health disparities proposal team is composed of the following UCI faculty:

  • Verónica Vieira (lead proposer), professor and interim chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Jun Wu, professor and graduate director, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Kim Fortun, professor, Department of Anthropology
  • Salvador Zárate, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology
  • Sunny Jiang, professor and chair, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Christopher Olivares, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Cynthia Lakon, associate professor and interim chair, Department of Health, Society, and Behavior
  • Alana LeBrón, assistant professor, Department of Health, Society, and Behavior, and Chicano/Latino Studies

– Lori Brandt