ACE department head highlights engagement and collaboration in research on global stage

Women speaking and holding arm in the air
Photo Credit: Ferenc Bogdani

Last week, scientists from around the world congregated at the 14th World Congress of the Regional Science Association International (RSAI) in Kecskemét, Hungary, where a new journal Global Challenges and Regional Science was announced. The new journal’s North American editor and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor Sarah Low delivered the keynote address on collaborative research to support rural resiliency in the face of climate change during the opening ceremony.

RSAI is an international community of scholars focusing on the regional impacts of economic or social change processes. The society, which was established in 1954, was created to provide opportunities for those involved in regional science to exchange ideas. Low and fellow Illinois professor of agricultural and consumer economics Sandy Dall’erba are both on the Council of the North American Regional Science Council (NARSC), the supra-national feeder organization to RSAI, and Dall’erba is the 2024 president.

The new journal, Global Challenges and Regional Science, will focus on structural challenges facing the globe, such as climate change and migration. The open access journal will be published by Elsevier, and its website should be available for submissions by early summer.

“I am very excited to work with the dynamic editorial team so that the journal can highlight worldwide challenges from a spatial perspective, exploring how regional science research can help solve these challenges,” said Low, who heads the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

In her keynote, Low detailed how climate change exacerbates the agronomic, demographic, and economic challenges rural regions face. She then outlined the unique ways regional scientists can contribute to the research on these challenges, calling for engagement and collaboration with stakeholders and using the U.S. Cooperative Extension system as an example.

“Regional science is an interdisciplinary forum, which makes it an ideal place for research-based, solution-driven science,” said Low. “Regional scientists understand the spillover effects economic phenomena have on regions, recognizing that policies and programs will be responded to differently place-by-place.” 

Low’s invitation to speak about embracing engagement and collaboration in research showcases the university’s commitment in this space. The university recently launched a Public Engagement and Research Option (PERO) for promotion and tenure; Illinois is one of only a few universities in the U.S. offering this option, which demonstrates recognition of the importance and impact of faculty’s engagement with the public when conducting research.

“I am very proud of Illinois’ momentum in public engagement,” shared Low. “After my keynote, many attendees noted that they would love their university to have an option like PERO. Some noted it was already required in their country. I think having the option is ideal.”

Low’s expertise comes from her own work in this area. She actively participates in the university’s research, teaching, and extension pillars. She relies on University of Illinois Extension, as well as participatory and public engagement research, when exploring solutions to problems that individuals and businesses in rural regions experience, such as broadband internet access, improving business survival, and fostering entrepreneurship for rural economic resiliency.

“The University of Illinois and the Department of ACE have long been worldwide leaders in regional science, with a 40-year heritage of educating leading regional economists and providing leadership to the Regional Science Association International,” said Low. 

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