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International Women's Day 2022: Shuang-Ye Wu

Professor Shuang-Ye Wu is a professor of Geoscience at University of Dayton who is also chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. She focuses on the area of climatology.

Tell us about your background and professional trajectory. How did you end up at UD? 

I had two parents who were engineers, and I was born in the 70s in China, at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, thankfully. By the time I reached school age, schooling had returned back to normal so I missed no years of formal schooling. However, my father was imprisoned as “counter-revolutionary” for 3 years and I was born during this time. We did not have much growing up. Four of us lived in one room: my grandma, my parents and me. But in this time and in my environment, this was seen as normal, so I would say I had a mostly happy childhood. I never felt deprived or poor in spite of the material scarcity.

This was also a time the communist government pushed for women’s advancement, with a popular slogan: women can hold up half of the sky: or 妇女能顶半边天 (Fu niu neng ding ban bian tian). While women did advance in Chinese society, they continued to face discrimination in spaces of power. For example, I was interested in physics but was told “girls can’t do physics.” Discrimination remained rampant in spite of the changes the Communist Party instituted. I ended up studying English literature for my Bachelor’s Degree and also got an M.A. in Linguistics. But when I became an interpreter and translator for China’s Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, I became interested in environmental issues and Geosciences and went to Cambridge in the UK. I received an M.Phil. and Ph.D there in geography, with a particular interest in climate and water issues. After a 3-year postdoc at Penn State, and a 1-year teaching at Gettysburg College, I applied to UD, was accepted, and never looked back. At the time I didn't even know what Marianist was and had to look it up in a dictionary. I had grown up in a non-religious environment in China. Yet here I am 18 years later.

What experiences have impacted you in your career? 

One experience that particularly marked me was working as an interpreter for a Chinese delegation to Kenya. I was a high-level delegate for a UN conference and managed to travel around Kenya for one month, visiting small towns and villages in addition to Nairobi. When visiting the Serengeti, it hit me: human beings are far from the only species on earth. So many animals were present in their natural habitat, not behind the bars of a cage. There are so few places that remain like this on earth. It may seem to be a simple realization. But we humans ought not be so anthropocentric. As I traveled through Kenya, I translated documents about conservation and wildlife while witnessing this amazing environment and I reflected on how humans navigate the world and it made me feel thankful that wild animals in their natural habitat still exist in the Serengeti and how important it is to preserve this wildlife.

What about your research area has been fulfilling and brought you the most satisfaction?

As a climatologist, my scientific work is very politically charged. I have been invited to do interviews on the radio, for newspapers and the TV news. But the most rewarding component about my research area is community outreach, such as giving public talks in spaces like public libraries. I love engaging with both students and community members about the science of climate change. While the scientific nitty gritty of climate change is complex and nuanced, these inherent nuances to the research are used as a manipulative tool to deny climate change. Climate change itself is not in dispute or uncertain at all. What I like to do is to talk about the practical steps ahead to address climate change, especially considering that the IPCC published a new report that climate change is advancing more quickly than we are able to respond. So much is changing so rapidly that outreach to community leaders, activists and others is essential and very rewarding.

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