Monday, April 14, 2014

Honors Speaker Series with Dean O'Hara

Dean Sabine O'Hara served as the March guest speaker for the UDC Honors Speakers Series. The program was established in 2009 with the Office for International Programs & Exchanges to incorporate global concerns into the Honors curriculum.

The Honors Speaker Series offers students and the campus community a chance to come together to discuss ideas and issues that affect us all, explained Dr. Howe, Director of the Honors Program. "The series invites prominent scholars and experts from a variety of fields to discuss issues fundamental to our humanity and our shared existence in a world that becomes smaller, and more fragile, with each passing day."

Past guests of the Honors Speaker Series have included Governor (and former Congressman) Jay Inslee, prominent physicist Sylvester Gates of the University of Maryland and renowned climatologist Margaret Leinen, current direct of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Dean O'Hara, who holds degrees in Environmental and Agricultural Economics, and specializes in sustainable economic development, lectured on
 The Five Pillars of Economic Development: Building Sustainable Communities. This type of development, as she explained, focuses on quality of life and must address the five pillars of: health, education, social and cultural amenities and access to transportation. The five pillar theory is derived from the development theory of the 1970s that addressed building capacity in underdeveloped countries to strengthen their ability to fend for themselves. 

"Sustainable development must be long term, providing economic resources in a manner where there is enough left over for those who come after us," Dr. O'Hara explained to the Honors students.

After her lecture, during the 'Q & A' portion of the evening, the audience asked questions about her experience and in particular, wanted to know more about beginner gardeners and the UDC farmers market.

According to Dr. O'Hara, farming techniques are no longer being passed down from generation to generation, and people need to be reintroduced to where food comes from and what it take to produce it. As an example, she told an anecdote about two third graders who planted beans but kept pulling out the sprout out of curiosity over the below-ground growing process!

She also expressed the importance of soil maintenance and testing--especially in urban environments--for lead, mercury and other remnants of urban uses not suited for food production. The best way to remediate urban soil is by composting (be on the watch for a future composting feature in Just CAUSES).

Dr. O’Hara then articulated the difficulty of starting new farmers markets in traditionally food insecure urban areas and food deserts because vendors don't accept WIC coupons and food stamps. Not only that, but because they lack access to fresh food, residents of these areas don't know how to prepare the fruits and vegetables sold at markets and shy away from buying them.

"We have to think about how we reeducate ourselves and our children in different consumer habits that are more conducive to sustainable trends."

Even though 90 minutes clearly was not enough for our talkative Dean, special thanks to Dr. Howe for having her! For more information on the Honors Speaker Series, contact Dr. Howe at

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