When John Atkinson wants to restore his faith in humanity, he heads to the grocery store. There, he sees individuals from all walks of life practicing a habit that has become second nature—bringing reusable bags into the store to carry their purchases home. It’s not something that most people think about, but to Atkinson, it shows that his neighbors are willing to make small changes to impact sustainability.
Atkinson isn’t just a keen observer of consumer behavior—sustainability is his life’s work. An associate professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, he was recently named the inaugural Scott and Coleen Stevens Chair in Engineering Sustainability. The endowed chair was created thanks to the generosity of its namesakes, Scott and Coleen, both UB graduates.
Atkinson already serves as graduate studies director of the engineering sustainability master’s program and the environmental and water resources engineering program, and is director of the university’s most popular study-abroad course, Costa Rica: Sustainability in Latin America, which he created in 2018.
“The Stevens’ gift allows us to take our already strong engineering programs to the next level and elevate them to a place where we’re doing more than educating,” Atkinson says. “A gift of this magnitude has the ability to change the way we educate engineers—we’re impacting the students, we’re impacting the communities we live and work in, and we’re impacting the world more broadly.”
In his new role as chair, Atkinson will increase the engineering sustainability course offerings and grow engineering sustainability research. This includes sustainability fundamentals, renewable energy, economics, environmental quality and engineering practice, ethics and manufacturing, all areas that UB is uniquely positioned to tackle.
Atkinson adds that an endowed position also enables the department to provide more opportunities to work with communities to enhance sustainability.
“During my first year teaching sustainability at UB, it was obvious that students wanted more. Students have their finger on the pulse better than any of us, and they know that this isn’t just something; this is everything,” Atkinson says. “That really motivated me. Sustainability’s not just a class I teach or something that feeds research papers. It’s everything, because it needs to be. I live it now.”
Scott, BS ’79, and Coleen, BS ’79, Stevens are long-time supporters of the University at Buffalo. Previous gifts to UB supported campus improvements. Now, utilizing the Scholars of Excellence match program, they have created the Scott and Coleen Stevens Chair in Engineering Sustainability, ensuring their philanthropy has an impact not only on the UB community, but on our world.