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Jennifer Russell

One of Us: The Person Behind the Professional

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Dr. Jennifer Russell

Dr. Jennifer Russell grew up north of Toronto, Canada.  She attended the University of Waterloo to get her B.ES in Environment & Business, and the University of Toronto to get an M.B.A. After working as an industry sustainability consultant for more than 10 years, she moved to Rochester, NY to get a Ph.D. in Sustainable Systems at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jennifer is married, and together with her husband, they manage one two-year old boy, two German Shepard-lab mix dogs, and three formerly-stray cats. In her spare time, Jennifer likes to experiment with composting, vermi-composting, gardening, and she tries to run at least 10km every week.

Jennifer really believes in sustainability.  In her words, “my entire career (and life) has been dedicated to finding better ways to live sustainably, and better ways to help others make sustainable decisions. I believe that figuring out how to live sustainably – in cooperation with others, with nature, and with natural systems – is the hardest and most important challenge that human beings have faced. If we fail to succeed, everything will die in the long-run. At first, the damage being done to the environment made me really angry, and I wanted to turn my back on society. But, one of my teachers helped me to see that, rather than despairing about all the harm we have done, and are capable of doing, I could choose to be part of the solution. I teach in this field because I know humans are capable of being better, and I want to help students to explore the ways in which they can personally contribute to this critical transformation of society.”

Jennifer’s favorite classes to teach are SBIO 1444 – Introduction to Circular Economy (which presents the chance to look at the world from a different perspective, to see the implications of our current system versus changing to one based on Circular Economy); and SBIO 2504 – Circular Economy Analytics (which sets out a toolkit for measuring and analyzing how and why a transformation to Circular Economy is so important).

One of her rewards of being a professor is when she gets to give students the opportunity to look at something from a different perspective, and when she can give them tools to feel empowered to do something meaningful with that new perspective. She believes that there are many people (students, staff, and faculty) who are working hard to make the world a better place, in different ways. Every time she meet someone new, she ends up engaging and brainstorming with them about the different ideas they could pursue to make VT, Blacksburg, and the world better-off.

One of the more exciting research projects that she is working on right now is called “CREACE - Creating a Repair Society: Policies, Networks and People” (link: https://repairsociety.blogg.lu.se/about-creace/), in collaboration with researchers at Lund University in Sweden. Jennifer let us know that “this project is all about understanding the role, scale, and opportunities for repair within a Circular Economy – in Sweden, and in the USA. So much emphasis in Circular Economy research is focused on technology and innovation – but most people around the world can’t access or engage with that. However, through reuse and repair, every person in the world is able to participate in the Circular Economy, and help to make the world more sustainable. So – while the unit-level impact reductions from repair may be small, if millions of people around the world are doing it, the aggregate environmental impacts avoided can be massive! We don’t want Circular Economy to be just for rich, industrialized economies – it is for everyone. This project is helping us to demonstrate that.”

Jennifer has won several awards:

  • Nominee, Industry Studies Association Dissertation Award, 2018
  • Outstanding Service Award for International Students, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2017
  • Fram Award for Excellence in Applied Critical Thinking, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2016
  • Service Award, Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2016

Jennifer loves digging into problems and helping people find meaningful and strategic solutions.  Before she joined the Sustainable Biomaterials Department, Jennifer worked as a consultant. She found that work exciting because every project and every client were different, and that meant that every day was a little bit different.  If she were not a professor, Jennifer believes she would still be consulting.  

Quote from a Colleague:
“Jennifer brings to us an exciting new way on how to think about more sustainable products and technologies.  She is a great teacher who can motivate and inspire students with this way of thinking, encouraging them to be the innovators of the future.” - Earl Kline, Professor, Sustainable Biomaterials Department

Jennifer Russell at the Major's Fair (pre-pandemic)
Jennifer speaking with a student at the VT Major's Fair (pre-pandemic).
Dr. Jennifer Russell
Dr. Jennifer Russell