Building a sustainable world through history

ASU professor's work in environmental history is working to build a cleaner, more sustainable tomorrow


September 20, 2019

Professor Paul Hirt wears many hats at Arizona State University as well as in the community: active public speaker, lecturer and facilitator.

At ASU, he is a professor of environmental history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, an instructor for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a scholar for the School of Sustainability and an associate for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. Glen Canyon Glen Canyon during the day. Courtesy: pexels.com Download Full Image

Hirt is involved with many public engagement programs including the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit Water/Ways, an administrative history of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, renewable energy development for the Navajo Nation and many more. He holds an elected position on the board of directors of the Salt River Project as well.

This past year, Hirt was on sabbatical and continued to pursue his current projects, as well as take on a few new ones. He got involved with Just Transition, a project from the Climate Justice Alliance to help communities affected by the closure of coal mines and coal-powered plants as the country moves to clean and renewable energy.

“Most of my work and advocacy has focused on the Navajo Nation, which will suffer a significant loss of jobs and tribal revenue when the Navajo generating station closes at the end of 2019,” Hirt said. “I advocate for economic transition assistance through both my position as a professor at ASU and my position on the board of directors of Salt River project, which manages the Navajo generating station.”

Working on Just Transition ended up becoming one of the most memorable moments of his sabbatical year, Hirt says. He co-organized and co-hosted a workshop for the project in May with four other professors from ASU: Gary Dirks, senior director of Global Futures Laboratory and LightWorks;  Kris Mayes, professor of practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Clark Miller, associate director for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; and Maren Mahoney, strategic initiatives coordinator in the School for the Future of Innovation.

“This workshop we organized on May 28 was designed to bring together many of the people who are most active in energy transition research and advocacy in the Southwest to begin a coordinated, regional conversation, and eventually a national conversation, about how to advance energy transition in the most sustainable and just manner possible,” Hirt said.

According to Miller, “the discussions were extremely helpful in framing the nature of one of the biggest challenges we face in the energy transition, namely, the ways in which the transition will bring different benefits and challenges to diverse groups of people.” 

Part of the conversation in transitioning to renewable energy that Hirt had in the workshop includes the acknowledgment that communities will be affected in both good and bad ways.

“As we address climate change and continue the rapid transformation of our energy grid toward clean energy and away from fossil fuels, there will be winners and losers in the energy transition,” Hirt said. “A responsible democracy will do what it can to make that transition smooth rather than wrenching to facilitate a ‘just transition’ for affected communities rather than simply turning our backs on the lives and local economies that are dependent on fossil fuel energy.”

Paul Hirt

Professor Paul Hirt 

Aside from the workshop and involvement in Just Transitions, Hirt continued serving as the state scholar for Water/Ways and advancing his project on the history of Glen Canyon Dam. But another highlight of his year came with his remaining participation with an initiative to commemorate the sesquicentennial of John Wesley Powell’s original exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

For the initiative, Hirt contributed an essay about Powell’s legacy to an anthology; organized a symposium on the past, present and future of the Colorado River; and joined two segments of the commemorative river trip that recapitulated Powell’s 1869 journey.

“I rafted with the Scree team through Desolation and Gray canyons on the Green River and through Grand Canyon on the Colorado River,” Hirt said.  

He spent a total of nine days on the Green River in June and a total of 18 days on the Colorado River in July.

“Obviously, the 18-day whitewater rafting trip through Grand Canyon was the highlight of my year,” Hirt said. “Happily, I can refer to it as both work and play. Not only was it an adventure of a lifetime, but the Scree journey involved a remarkable cast of scholars and researchers and journalists who are all focused on the responsible, sustainable management of water and natural resources in the Colorado river basin. Almost every evening we would have a recorded discussion about the history of the basin, challenges we face, flaws and opportunities in the region’s water laws and policies, potential solutions, how to reach and educate the public.”

There will be many ways Hirt and the rest of the team will be making their research available to the public. Over the next year, there will be blog posts, a conference, presentations, published essays, an art exhibit and a film.

Hirt has continued to be an influential force in the field of studying environmental history. He sees the relationship between nature and culture as something we should always pay attention to.

“Nature is our home, despite the fact that many of us live in constructed artificial environments,” Hirt said. “How we behave in that larger diverse living home on which we depend, whether we abuse it or nurture it, impacts us as individuals, as communities, as nations and as a species.

“History happens in places and those places shape historical development in profound ways. The lack of water shapes the societies that evolve in arid regions like the American Southwest, just as the abundance of ice shapes societies in northern climates or the abundance of rain shapes societies in wet tropical environments. Everything exists in the context of place and time.”

Hirt is back on campus for the upcoming year where he will wrap up many of his projects. Water/Ways will conclude in April 2020, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program History Project will be completed in September 2020 and he will continue to promote Just Transitions as the Navajo generating station is closed this winter and decommissioned over the next several years.

To cap all of this off, in May 2020, Hirt will be retiring from ASU and plans to begin a slow trip around the Southern hemisphere with his wife, Linda, to “mark the transition to a new phase of life.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Edson College creates new opportunities for students to gain a global perspective


September 20, 2019

A trip abroad wasn’t part of the summer plan for Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation students Jasmine Dahdal and Zoe Zimmerman, until it was. 

The pair of senior nursing majors were recruited to apply for the Sichuan University Immersion Program by Edson College Clinical Assistant Professor and Global Health Collaboratory Assistant Director Aliria Muñoz Rascón   Senior Nursing Students Jasmine Dahdal and Zoe Zimmerman Senior nursing students Jasmine Dahdal and Zoe Zimmerman. Download Full Image

“Thanks to recent connections and trips to China by Edson College senior leadership, we were told about this great opportunity and were especially interested in letting our students know about it and supporting them through the process of applying and participating,” Muñoz Rascón said. 

The two-week-long program sent Dahdal and Zimmerman more than 7,000 miles from Arizona to Chengdu, China, for a unique and in-depth experience. 

“Sichuan University brings students from all over the world to get immersed in their culture, in their ways of life and the major they're a part of. We were a part of the nursing group so we learned how they practice through visits to their hospitals and conversations with nurses and educators,” Dahdal said.

Beyond the hospital walls, the students were able to explore and observe Chinese culture and customs up close. Both of them took advantage of the free time in their schedule to visit the sights and soak up all that Chengdu has to offer. 

Jasmine Dahdal poses in Chengdu, China

Jasmine Dahdal sightseeing in Chengdu, China, over the summer. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Dahdal.

Still, it was the time spent in the hospital and with their future nurse peers that stuck out as the highlight of the trip for both women. 

“I liked seeing how different it was. We went to several different units and it was fascinating. Even just looking at the equipment — overall it’s similar to what we have here but it was cool to see the differences and similarities,” Zimmerman said. 

Dahdal said what came into focus for her was the singular thread that connects all nurses, no matter the difference in practice, language or even technology. 

“Seeing the nurses there and how caring they are toward their patients, it’s, in general, the same here, the way that the nurses see their patients, the way they treat their patients, the way they love their job and the way they put so much effort into taking care of each person,” she said. 

Those takeaways are just the most recent examples of why Edson College is diligently working to expand its footprint abroad. In fact, the college created a new unit called the Global Health Collaboratory earlier this year to develop global collegiate partnerships, expand certificate programs to nontraditional students and grow international student and faculty exchange opportunities.

Not only does international exposure open students’ eyes in the short term, it lays the groundwork for their future practice as they draw on these experiences to inform their day-to-day interactions in the health care industry.  

Edson College

Clinical Assistant Professor Aliria Muñoz Rascón

“I think it’s important to provide our students with opportunities to see the world of health care through a different lens. It broadens their perspectives on what it means to be a nurse or health care provider and can help improve their cultural humility and cultural competence. But even beyond the health aspect, these experiences also help students learn about themselves. It forces them to sometimes take a step back and realize their worldview isn’t the only one and may not translate in different environments,” Muñoz Rascón said. 

So the Global Health Collaboratory has been pursuing ways to ensure that even more students have the chance to interact and learn from cultures beyond their own. 

The next step for the college is to connect with undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in international health at an event later this month. The Edson Global Citizens Interest Group will meet from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26 in Health North Room 110. 

On the agenda is an explanation of the various global opportunities and partnerships the college already has, plus a look ahead to some of the exciting things in development. 

Also, attendees can expect an honest dialogue about some of the current challenges that limit a student’s ability to participate in global programs.

“We recognize that some of these current international offerings like study abroad are not always feasible for every student; the cost can be a big barrier. Our aim is to be creative in coming up with opportunities so we can meet a lot of different needs for all students in Edson College,” Muñoz Rascón said. 

This trip was a gamechanger for both Dahdal and Zimmerman and what helped make it a reality was the fact that the cost was covered. So they’re on board with the college’s goal to make the type of experience afforded to them a reality for future students.

“The more cultural experiences you have, the better, because you never know who you are going to come across in the hospital or wherever you're practicing. People live different lives and think differently than you — so that exposure helps you treat them better,” Dahdal said.

“They teach us that you need to be culturally competent as a nurse, but it's hard to be culturally competent to your full potential unless you’ve actually experienced other people’s cultures. I mean, we can sit through lectures but learning and reading about something in a textbook is so different than seeing it and actually experiencing it,” Zimmerman said. 

RSVP for the Edson Global Citizens Interest Group meetingRefreshments will be provided.

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

602-496-0983