Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

IBES celebrates 10 years, applauds a record-setting class of graduates, and toasts to the future

During Commencement and Reunion Weekend, IBES celebrated its 10-year anniversary, hosted a discussion on cross-disciplinary climate action and cheered on its largest-ever graduating class.

With three days of festivities bringing together graduates, families and multiple generations of alumni, Commencement and Reunion Weekend at Brown University is always a special occasion. For the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, an extra celebratory buzz was in the air this year.

Alumni, families, students, faculty and others from the Institute’s extended community gathered on College Hill — some from across campus, others from across the globe — to celebrate major IBES milestones. They raised a glass to the Institute’s 10th anniversary; participated in a conversation on cross-disciplinary climate work at Brown; and cheered on a record-setting number of environmental studies and sciences graduates. 

Like the Memorial Day Weekend weather, the mood was bright as alumni swapped memories, families reconnected and faculty offered thoughtful remarks as they saw off the next generation of changemakers.

Honoring IBES’ origin story and Professor Emeritus Harold Ward

Nearly 200 guests turned out for a special celebration of IBES’ 10th anniversary on Friday, May 24. Under a tent on the South Walkway near the Urban Environmental Lab (UEL), students, families, Brown colleagues and alumni reminisced on environmental studies days gone by while celebrating IBES’ bright future. 

Amid the excited chatter rose the name Harold Ward, again and again. An emeritus professor who taught the first environmentally focused courses at Brown from the late 1970s into the early 2000s, Ward also led the erstwhile Center for Environmental Studies and worked with students to build the UEL, still a beloved symbol of ingenuity, environmental consciousness and alternative living on campus.

IBES Director Kim Cobb said Ward’s ideas about community partnerships and hands-on learning still resonate in IBES’ mission and vision today. His name and ideals live on, Cobb said, in the new Harold Ward Prize, which recognizes an outstanding ENVS senior whose environmental scholarship makes Rhode Island and the world a better place. Logan Torres, the inaugural recipient of this year's Harold Ward Prize, has distinguished himself as a University Presidential Scholar, as a student mentor, and through several public service and community engagement internships.

Over sparkling cider and 10th anniversary cake, students and colleagues past and present honored Ward, reveling in the decades of growth and scholarship his ideas brought about.

Later that evening, faculty, alumni, graduating students and their families gathered in the UEL for a cocktail reception — celebrating not just the graduates themselves, but also the community  that buoyed their success at Brown.

Spotlighting climate collaboration at Brown

Commencement and Reunion Weekend isn’t all cider and celebration — it’s also an opportunity to learn new things. Each year, Saturday’s Commencement forums connect scholars, alumni and families through conversations about pressing issues like inequality, international conflicts — and, this year for the first time, climate change.

Over 100 people turned out for an IBES-hosted forum titled “Solving the Climate Challenge: How Brown Works Across Disciplines to Create a Sustainable and Equitable Future.” The event brought together leading faculty members from a range of fields — climate science, engineering, public affairs, public health and sustainability — to demonstrate how Brown is using an all-hands-on-deck approach to confront the climate crisis.

“ IBES has always been a hub for interdisciplinary research, and with these partnerships, we’re able to live out our ambitions more fully. ”

Kim Cobb Lawrence and Barbara Margolis Director of IBES

Panelist Stephen Porder, Brown’s associate provost for sustainability, explained that he and other leaders across multiple centers and institutes collaborate to break down disciplinary silos and work together on boundary-breaking projects that help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The reason we started meeting was simply that we were coming from all these different perspectives to address this monumental challenge of the 21st century,” Porder said. “We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do, but we knew we wanted to do it big, and we needed to do it fast.”

Moderated by Brown alumna Megan Hall, who hosts the nationally syndicated, IBES-produced environmental podcast Possibly, the conversation shed light on how Brown’s culture of collaboration has helped catalyze solutions to sea level rise, air pollution and other issues in Rhode Island and beyond — and how it has created a “living lab” where students can gain hands-on experience in creating sustainable change, no matter their concentration.

"IBES has always been a hub for interdisciplinary research,” Cobb said, “and with these partnerships, we’re able to live out our ambitions more fully."

A record-setting class of graduates

The Class of 2024 graduated from high school over Zoom. They took their first college courses with masks on, sitting six feet apart from their peers.

So for these students, graduating in person with all the trappings of normalcy felt like a monumental, hard-earned moment.

Like their pre-pandemic peers, Brown’s environmental studies and sciences graduates got to experience the heady energy of Brown’s famous Commencement procession down College Hill. They sat in close quarters with their peers on the lawn of the First Baptist Church in America for the College Ceremony, took in the University Ceremony on the College Green and watched two of their fellow graduates give moving orations.

Then, they connected with their families and faculty mentors at Sunday afternoon’s environmental studies and sciences (ENVS) diploma ceremony. 

It was the ENVS program’s biggest Commencement ceremony in history, with more than 60 graduating seniors. Under a tent near Carrie Tower, with hundreds of loved ones looking on, the graduates cheered for each other as IBES faculty members listed their unique accomplishments, including theses, research projects and volunteer work.

Soon after, the graduates packed their bags and headed off to new lives. Some will start careers in environmental policy, at nonprofit organizations or in the public sector. Others will head to graduate school with the goal of pursuing jobs in environmental law or sustainable finance.

Just like today’s alumni, they’ll be back someday to swap IBES anecdotes, cheer on Brown’s newest graduates and celebrate growth and change at the University — and the Institute — that helped shape them.