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Welcome New Faculty: Moira Zellner

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We're excited to welcome Moira Zellner to the SPPUA faculty, starting in January of 2021. Prof. Zellner will join us as a Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and as the Director of Participatory Modeling and Data Science for the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Read more below about her work and research.

What is your elevator pitch for your work and research?

My work involves addressing complex socio-environmental questions and problems through different forms of modeling and visualization of complex systems, and engaging stakeholders in the modeling process with these tools to foster innovation and to facilitate compromise solutions that address diverse needs.

What have some of your favorite research endeavors been, and why? 

My most favorite research projects have been those in which I have worked closely with communities to learn, model and make plans together to  address persistent flooding, water scarcity, wildfires, and other socio-environmental problems. Developing parsimonious models that capture the essential complexity of these problems, yet remain tractable and inspectable for use with stakeholders is a central piece of this work. As important, however, is developing trusting relationships and facilitating the co-generation of knowledge and compromise; we are all in it together. I am always humbled and inspired by the people we work with.

What courses are your favorite to teach/are you most excited about teaching?

I especially love courses that teach us how to think differently and draw from a diverse set of skills, tools and theoretical frameworks to understand and address complex problems. Whether it’s system dynamics modeling, agent-based modeling, environmental economics, or participatory modeling, it is exciting to me to help students learn how to use these approaches to make sense of the world we live in and inform policies and decision-making with that understanding. It’s important to me that students do not just learn how to develop and run a model or conduct an analysis, but that they also use the methods learned to engage a diverse constituency and generate meaningful and impactful insights. 

Describe your upcoming role as Director of Participatory Modeling and Data Science.

One of my tasks as Director of Participatory Modeling and Data Science for CSSH is to engage across different units on campus to generate new research and teaching opportunities. Convening and facilitating large interdisciplinary research groups to tackle big social questions is something that I particularly enjoy doing and has characterized my career so far. This is a specific edge that Northeastern and the CSSH in particular have, and I am excited to contribute to that effort. I also look forward to creating new courses on participatory modeling with a focus on experiential learning with communities, agencies and NGOs in the region.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading two books (very slowly…): A Thousand Years of Non-linear History by Manuel Landa, and Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson.

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