A Portuguese farmer explains the impact of his conservation measures to other farmers as well as ecologists and soil scientists. Photo by Barron Orr
A Portuguese farmer explains the impact of his conservation measures to other farmers as well as ecologists and soil scientists. Photo by Barron Orr

UA Professor to Develop European Model to Link Science With Stakeholders

UA professor Barron Orr has won the prestigious Marie Curie Actions International Incoming Fellowship.
April 28, 2014
Barron Orr gives a presentation in Germany in 2011.
Barron Orr gives a presentation in Germany in 2011.

A University of Arizona professor is headed to Spain this fall to focus on developing a model for collaboration between researchers, stakeholders and citizens – an undeveloped concept in areas of Europe. At the UA, and in the U.S., the idea has been institutionalized through Cooperative Extension. 

Barron Orr, professor and geospatial extension specialist in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has won a Marie Curie Actions International Incoming Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship that allows scholars from outside Europe to contribute unique and novel ideas to European nations, encouraging multidisciplinary collaborations.

“2014 is the hundred-year-anniversary of the act of Congress that created Cooperative Extension,” said Orr. “We’ve institutionalized the connection between science and stakeholders over the past one hundred years.”

With bachelor’s degrees in French and political science, a master’s degree in international affairs, a doctorate in arid lands resource sciences, and a background in international business with time spent in the Peace Corps, Orr is about as multidisciplinary as they come.

“When you’re in that interdisciplinary space you need to be able to speak the languages of the disciplines to be able to bring them together,” Orr said. “I have one foot in research and one foot in the issue-oriented public. I’m a bridge.”

At the UA, Orr’s role is to turn discoveries in science and technology into practical applications in the community. His work falls within the missions of NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Most outreach and extension programs in countries besides the U.S. are conducted through government ministries without a formal link to university research, Orr said. In most countries, the link to and from scientific discovery is orphaned.

Recognizing this, Susana Bautista, an ecologist at the Multidisciplinary Institute for Environmental Studies at the Universidad de Alicante in Alicante, Spain, invited Orr to apply for the Marie Curie fellowship to bring his expertise as an extension specialist to Europe.

“I think one of the reasons I was selected for this fellowship is that we’re very good at engagement at the University of Arizona,” Orr said, who is also an adviser to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, a sister convention to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We’re a land-grant university, which means we have a science-to-society mission built in that goes back to the 1800s. We have a model with Cooperative Extension to do knowledge transfer to the community through the University.”

Starting this September, Orr will commence his two-year fellowship project as an international translator of science at the Universidad de Alicante, his European host institution.

The goal is to enable the spread of new science and technology, as well as sustainable behaviors and practices throughout the community – a model based upon the UA’s example of Cooperative Extension. The model is versatile enough to apply to any science-based discipline that incorporates public engagement and policy, and applicable throughout Europe and across the U.S.

To make scientific concepts actionable in the community, Orr said, “you need a level of engagement. The closer you make your education program to a real issue that affects peoples’ lives and let them drive the connection to science, the more likely they’ll be motivated to put science into practice to bring solutions to action. In this way scientists and stakeholders learn from each other.”