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Virginia Wesleyan University Receives Grant for Heat Mitigation

Project aims to curb the deadly effects of extreme heat

University News | March 4, 2024

In an effort to combat urban heat stress, Virginia Wesleyan University (VWU) has been awarded a substantial grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF). The $222,000 grant has been designated for a two-year project to reduce rising temperatures in Portsmouth, Virginia. 

"Virginia Wesleyan University is honored to receive this grant, and look forward to working with our students and the community to address pressing environmental challenges," says Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm, Professor of Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences and Director of Sustainability at VWU. "This project represents a vital opportunity to empower communities and implement solutions that mitigate the adverse effects of extreme heat, particularly in underserved areas." 

Portsmouth was selected for this project due to a variety of demographic factors, most notably, income disparity rates coupled with low tree coverage and widespread impervious surfaces, which heightens the city’s susceptibility to extreme heat stress. Under the guidance of VWU faculty members, including Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Chris Haley, Dr. Maynard Schaus, Dr. William McConnell, and Dr. Annika Quick, the project will mobilize undergraduate and graduate students from various disciplines, emphasizing hands-on involvement throughout all phases of the project. 

"Our students will play a central role in this initiative, gaining invaluable real-world experiences while actively contributing to community-driven solutions," stated Dr. Malcolm. "Their enthusiasm and dedication underscore the university's commitment to fostering environmental stewardship and civic engagement." 

This project grew out of VWU's participation in the Heat Watch Campaign alongside the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) in 2021. The data collected during this campaign provided valuable insights into the impact of urban heat islands across Virginia, laying the groundwork for targeted interventions such as the current project in Portsmouth. 

The project will map urban heat islands in Portsmouth through direct measurements and GIS analysis, identifying high-risk neighborhoods for extreme heat, and engaging the community in collaborative solution development. Interventions such as pavement removal and tree planting will be implemented in areas identified as disadvantaged based on demographic and heat stress factors. 

Through partnerships with organizations such as the Center for Sustainable Communities (CSC), Starbase Victory, and the Elizabeth River Project, VWU aims to create lasting impacts on both environmental sustainability and community resilience. “We are excited to help transform this project into one that helps this community face the deadly consequences associated with extreme heat,” says CSC Executive Director Dr. Garry Harris. “Extreme heat kills more people nationally than any other severe weather phenomena.” 

As Virginia Wesleyan University takes strides towards a greener, more resilient future, the university remains steadfast in its commitment to student-led initiatives, community-driven solutions, and environmental stewardship. With the support of the Virginia Department of Forestry and dedicated partners, VWU's endeavor exemplifies the transformative potential of collaborative efforts in addressing pressing environmental challenges.