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Fisher profile

Author and professor Dana R. Fisher starts new chapter as director of the Center for Environment, Community, & Equity

Fisher introduces the new CECE clearinghouse in her first semester as director

American University’s Center for Environment, Community, & Equity has advanced its development, establishing a new clearinghouse, anchored by newly appointed Director Dana R. Fisher.

Fisher is a professor in the School of International Service who has written multiple books and peer-reviewed articles that discuss topics such as environmental stewardship, climate politics and democracy. 

She serves as the president of the Eastern Sociological Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes sociological scholarship. Fisher took the CECE director position in April and officially joined the AU faculty in July. Before coming to AU she was the director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“When the folks at American reached out to me about this, I thought this would be just a wonderful opportunity to build something and start to do this kind of bridge-building across different disciplines to help to cultivate people who were doing research that will have an impact,” Fisher said.

Launched on Oct. 19, 2022, CECE aims to foster environmental work collaborations between various schools at AU, which include research, projects and events. 

The Center's interdisciplinary environmental work spans diverse topics such as justice, citizen engagement and racial equity. CECE’s four focus areas are climate and sustainability, environmental equity and justice, food, agriculture, land and water, as well as oceans and fisheries.

Due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, its launch was delayed and CECE was formally launched two years later than planned. 

Fisher, upon her arrival in July 2023, sought to launch the CECE clearinghouse, an online platform hosting articles and content related to community, equity and environmental work at AU. 

The clearinghouse officially launched in November and will include work and initiatives from different AU schools such as the School of Communication, SIS and the College of Arts and Sciences. 

The CECE recently announced its inaugural faculty research incubator grants, which will fund research projects from these AU schools. 

Current projects include “The Climate Story Gaps Project: Locating Untold Climate Intersections in Washington, D.C.” and “Remote Sensing and Knowledge Co-Production in Northern Haiti.” 

Fisher said she sees this process as a new way to accelerate research projects at AU.

“We will actually be working with those teams to develop their projects and then fundraise around them so they can bring in external funding,” Fisher said. “My hope, assuming that we can continue to get the funding from the University on this is that it is going to be a yearly opportunity to fund and support research projects across the University.” 

CECE will also host events centered around climate change, such as the COP28 DC Climate Hub, which brought climate activists, policymakers and ambassadors to speak at SIS.

One of CECE's goals is to engage students in the center and its many avenues for research and environmental work. 

Fisher said she appreciates how environmentally conscious the AU student body is, something that makes her hopeful for the future of the center.

“One of the big contrasts that was very clear to me right when I came in and visited for the first time from Maryland is that the student body is environmentally concerned and terminally focused and engaged, which is wonderful,” Fisher said.

In 2018, AU became the first carbon-neutral university in the United States, a feat that Fisher believes the student body significantly impacted. Fisher said she hopes environmentally conscious students can see CECE as a place to kick-start their careers.

“The hope is that people will get involved in CECE hopefully as students, and then maybe afterwards take on a job as an early professional and maybe even get a graduate degree and continue on,” Fisher said. “That's my philosophy.”  

The center will soon offer a Graduate Certificate in Environment, Community, & Equity, and is currently offering part-time student assistant positions.

Fisher began her own academic career in 2002 as a professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she conducted environmental research for the school’s Earth Institute

Fisher previously earned her Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During her time at UMD, Fisher visualized cultivating the type of interdisciplinary research that CECE currently conducts. She joined CECE because of AU’s institutional resources and willingness to support and fund the center's vision.

“Most environmental problems in the world are social,” Fisher said. “They have an effect and are embedded in our communities and, in many cases, challenges having to do with equity have to do with justice having to do with distributional issues.”

When Fisher made the move to AU, she arrived with W. Chris Jayko, who is currently a project manager at CECE. 

Jayko was previously a fellow at UMD's Program for Society and the Environment, where he worked alongside Fisher, who helped him with his master's thesis at the university. Jayko said he is glad to continue working with Fisher. Part of his fellowship was to collaborate with both the National Park Service and the Hewlett Foundation.

“It was kind of my first step into doing more research roles and [Fisher] was super helpful on getting me up to speed on different tactics that we used as well as doing interviews and things like that,” Jayko said. “She's been just an amazing resource for my position as well as in my career and just been an awesome mentor for me.”

In addition to upcoming events for CECE, Fisher has a new book on the way. Her seventh book, “Saving Ourselves: From Climate Shocks to Climate Action,” will be released on Feb. 22, and she is hosting a book launch event on Jan. 17 in SIS.

Fisher said she hopes the book is more accessible and less formal, informing readers on the state of climate policymaking and the climate crisis in a clear and digestible way. Fisher sees the book as a call to action.

“What I can say about this book that's different from all the other books I've written is this book ends with a list of what we need to do to help respond to the climate crisis and help us save ourselves,” Fisher said. “And as the last line of the book says, as unfair as it may seem, it's up to us and that's absolutely true. And that's what my research shows, and that's what the book talks about.”

This article was edited by Soumya Sahay, Zoe Bell, Patricia McGee, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Isabelle Kravis. 

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