Associate Dean Evan Variano works to provide inclusive access to learning. His approach is to leverage students’ existing knowledge, which always exceeds any single workshop or lesson. He seeks to elevate voices that are less-often heard and let students share the knowledge they’ve gained from academic study and lived experience. In particular, Evan is interested in the intersection of mental wellness “professional skills.” In the College of Engineering, he hopes to make more space for the daylighting of issues that have not yet been broadly heard, including harassment around gender normativity, essentializing and objectifying, and stereotypes applied to international students.
Evan, or “Dr. V” as many students call him, joined the College of Engineering in 2007 as an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where he has partnered with students to pioneer new methods of measuring pollutant transport in air and water. Applications of this work include San Francisco Bay sediments, wetland carbon budgets, natural shoreline defenses, low-emission rice farming, marine plankton biomechanics, and respiratory aerosols carrying viruses. He has also partnered with students to test new mechanisms of teaching and grading to provide access and equity.
How did your career path lead you to your current role?
I was working after college, looking for ways to unite my passion for social and environmental justice and my enjoyment of academic research. My commuter train ran along a river, in which fishing and swimming were forbidden due to PCBs that been dumped (totally legally) decades before. A debate was raging about whether there was a safe way to remove the contaminated sediment on the riverbed. This question taught me that Civil and Environmental Engineering was a nice fit for my interests. There’s still no easy answer to the PCB question, but my students and I have contributed to many other cases of similar importance.
What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I never planned to leave the small-town life I grew up with in rural New York State. I loved the predictability and familiarity, as well as the surprises that arose when people I’d always known created something new together. Life has brought me to a city that’s radically different from the places I knew, and it’s not easy. Still, I appreciate the discomfort I feel. It helps me build empathy for the many people who miss the comforts of home every day.
Besides your work, what’s something that you’re passionate about?
I like board games because video games make me dizzy and I don’t run fast enough for most sports. I love it when games get people laughing, make us plan and re-plan, and get people working together in clever ways!
What’s your favorite spot on campus?
I like the hill on the southwest side of Foothill, where you can hear performers do their sound-check at the Greek Theater in the mid-afternoon. It helps me decide whether to run over to the Zellerbach ticket booth and get a ticket for that night (no service fees!).