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Quarterly Topic

The Symposium 2016-2017: Water
UNIV 241
Pennoni Honors College 
(Find under “University-wide courses")

Fall 2016: “Rivers of Exploration"

UNIV 241: Wednesdays, 6-8:50 p.m.

Instructors: Lloyd Ackert and Rick McCourt

Exploring rivers has been an important part of human history and the way people use water. This co-taught course will weave together the history and science of river exploration in the United States and elsewhere. Students will examine how rivers were the primary means of exploring in pre-industrial times, focusing on the ways that scientific exploration played a major role in these journeys of discovery. By examining the transition from the era of discovery and exploration to present day scientific investigation of rivers, students will also study how the future of rivers and water resources is tied to an understanding of the dynamic changes taking place due to urbanization and climate change.

The course will take advantage of Philadelphia’s proximity to the Delaware and Schuylkill River system. Students will do research using extensive record of aquatic studies at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel, as well as other archives and institutions in Philadelphia. Guest lectures will include contemporary river explorers, aquatic biologists, historians, and environmental ecologists.  

Winter 2017: “Making Space for Water: Incorporating Water into Urban Environments” 

UNIV 241: Wednesdays, 6-8:50 p.m.

Instructors: Deb Ruben and Julia Novak Colwell

Understanding water use and its past, present and future in our Cities is critical to developing solutions that address current and future challenges of water resources and scarcity. Using both local and global examples, this course will explore the history of how we have dealt with water in urban environments as well as discover how cities are planning for their future by incorporating water plans into their long term design goals. Beginning by establishing a fundamental understanding of how we get our water, the course will explore the history of how this water acquisition process has changed over time, and how our decisions (dams, infill, building and construction) to control water flow for our own use have created pollution, floods, droughts, etc.

Videos, field trips and current events (such as Chennai, India and Texas, US) will serve as case studies to understand history and present-day issues including the lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and increasing water-related disasters such as floods and droughts. With these examples in mind, students will use design based thinking to develop potential solutions to water/planning issues, whether here in Philadelphia or elsewhere, drawing on learnings from course topics and local field excursions. Guest lecturers will be brought in from Drexel’s diverse departments, city planning offices and local companies who are developing innovative technology for water use planning.

Spring 2017: “Gender, Water and Development” 

UNIV 241: Wednesdays, 6-8:50 p.m.

Instructors: Shannon Marquez and Julia Novak Colwell

Improving the inclusion of gender equality in water access, management and governance can enhance water security and sustainability. This course will explore gender issues in water resource management. Through an examination of the rules, rights, responsibilities and relationships between men and women that are constructed and reconstructed daily throughout the world, we will investigate how power, class, sex, race, caste, etc. give rise to unequal access arrangements, how individuals and groups cope with this unequal access as well as strategies for lessening the divide. We will examine these issues through a series of case studies in Sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asia, exploring ways in which organizations, local communities and governments have attempted to enhance gender equality in access to water. 

The crisis of water scarcity, deteriorating water quality, water and food security linkages, and the need for improved governance are most significant in the context of gender differences in access to and control over water resources. Through this course, students will learn from guest speakers from prominent international NGOs as well as researchers collecting primary field data on the subject.   

Summer 2017: “Geopolitics of Water” 

UNIV 241: Wednesdays, 6-8:50 p.m.

Instructors: Julia Novak Colwell

Geopolitics is the study of how geography and economics influence politics and inter-state relations. This course will focus on the geopolitics of water, examining international, regional and local relationships and how they influence the management of water as well as how individual level power dynamics influence access to water and water security. Through an examination of the 14 topic areas ( included in the UN’s decade for water (2005-2015), we will explore water both as a boundary and shared resource, while working towards understanding how, in the context of scarcity, we can move forward in ensuring water security for the global population, as mandated in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

Through this course, students will have the opportunity to participate in a structured decision making exercise on negotiations over water access rights. Using a comparative case-study approach, we will also conduct primary research coupled with utilizing primary, secondary and grey literature to investigate what local progress has been made over the past decade toward the Water for Life topic area goals: comparing that progress to the UN’s progress/regress in different areas of the world.

For more information, contact Dr. Kevin Egan at