Vice Provost for Scholarship and Research, and Dean of Graduate Studies
When asked what general advice about life he would give to students, Dr. Robert Brinkmann replies: “Think about life and your career as a vocation. A job will come from finding a path that makes sense for your own personal values and interests.” In the early 1980s, Dr. Brinkmann did just that, when his first job out of college stirred a passion for sustainability.
Having earned a BS with a focus on lithology, mineralogy and field geology from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, he began work with a mineral exploration company in the Midwest. He collected samples from streambeds in search of valuable gemstones, until one day he encountered a thick layer of decaying cow manure, which did not belong in the stream. How could a body of water surrounded by a “natural” agricultural landscape – complete with cows, barns, cornfields and farmhouses -- yield anything but natural sediment samples? That paradox ignited a career focused on “the measurement and description of human alteration of the planet.”
Dr. Robert Brinkmann came to Hofstra in the fall of 2011 as the director of the Sustainability Studies Program and a professor in Hofstra University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability. He is also the director of sustainability research in the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, which enables him to expose students to real-world sustainability issues. He includes students in Center-based research projects, events and meetings that address sustainability concerns in suburban landscapes.
“Over the years, many of my students have become involved in my research in a number of different ways. Most recently, they have worked with community organizations to develop sustainability plans and projects,” Dr. Brinkmann said. “Some have conducted greenhouse gas inventories, some have developed plans for individual programs such as green streets programs or green jobs initiatives, and others have conducted assessments as to community redevelopment plans within a green framework. Much of this work was conducted at the University of South Florida where I was a professor for more than 20 years.”
During his time in Florida, Dr. Brinkmann focused his geological research on karst topography, which is the basis for sinkholes. Karst topography is a landscape created when groundwater dissolves sedimentary rock such as limestone, which is very porous; sinkholes form when limestone dissolves bedrock and the overlying land surface collapses. Florida is the only U.S. territory comprising a landscape that is entirely karst.
“As a geologist and non-native resident of Florida, I was interested in the state’s topography and found very little information out there, so I conducted my own investigations,” explained Dr. Brinkmann. He is among only a few investigators in the country who examine karst topography.
In his comprehensive book, Florida Sinkholes: Science and Policy, Dr. Brinkmann explains how sinkholes form and what to do about them. He examines case studies of notable sinkholes and reviews practical concerns like structural damage, repairs and insurance problems related to sinkholes.
Since his arrival at Hofstra three years ago, Dr. Brinkmann has grown the University’s Sustainability Studies program to include 50 undergraduate majors across its three degree programs. As the number of students enrolled in the program continues to rise, “we want to expand faculty … and we hope to track some of the programs we have in the undergrad degree program, so students can specialize” in specific sustainability areas, he said. He is also building a master’s degree program in sustainability.
Dr. Brinkmann is eager to engage students in sustainability issues outside the classroom, particularly energy, pollution and food. He’s spearheaded several research programs on Long Island examining soil and sediment pollution. And he is a key player in the Long Island Food Conference, hosted by Hofstra, which affords students the opportunity to interact with top researchers and speakers on issues related to food and sustainability. Dr. Brinkmann also accompanied a group of about 200 students to the People’s Climate March in New York City in September 2014.
Back on campus, he encourages students to live what they are studying... Students can volunteer at the Office of Sustainability to help tackle on-campus sustainability issues or they can join special interest groups like Students for a Greener Hofstra and the Sustainability Club. Students can also collaborate with faculty to help plan and set up conferences and events. “It’s really a nice community that we have with students and faculty working together,” Dr. Brinkmann said.
When he is not teaching or doing research, Dr. Brinkmann spends much of his time writing to try to educate the general population on issues of sustainability. He is one of the associate editors of the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies and the editor of the Suburban Sustainability journal. In addition to his book on Florida sinkholes, he is also the author of Urban Sediment Removal: The Science, Policy, and Management of Street Sweeping and has published numerous journal articles. And his blog, “On the Brink,” (link) educates people about sustainability in a fun, engaging way.
Part of his time spent writing is with students. He has collaborated with students on sustainability in sports and pollution on Long Island.
At the request of Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz, Dr. Brinkmann worked with Larry Levy, the executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies (NCSS), and Chris Niedt, academic director of NCSS, to help write the Long Island Economic Development Plan, which helped give Hofstra’s Sustainability Studies Program exposure to key political and business leaders on Long Island.
Asked what he hopes students learn from him? “That they can make changes in the world through their activism.”
“Think about life and your career as a vocation. A job will come from finding a path that makes sense for your own personal values and interests.”
Dr. Robert Brinkmann in the News
Sustainability: The First Postmodern Discipline
Sept. 16, 2014 – Huffington Post
A Field Guide to Sustainabillies
August 27, 2014 – Huffington Post
The Ongoing Climate Change Debate
July 7, 2014 – Huffington Post
Government Climate Change Report
May 12, 2014 – Huffington Post
Cutting Ties With Carbon
April 11, 2014 - Huffington Post
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