Sultanate of Oman, UHCL team up for science diplomacy conference

October 9, 2019 | UHCL Staff

Sultanate of Oman, UHCL team up for science diplomacy conference

University of Houston-Clear Lake will host the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center’s 10th Annual Conference Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The conference is a key educational initiative of the Sultanate of Oman and is titled, “UHCL-SQCC Energy and Environmental Stewardship: Oman and the U.S.” The panel discussion-style conference will spotlight topics critical to both Texas and Oman, including technological advances within the oil and gas industry to recapture carbon emissions, environmental and climate challenges in coastal regions, emergency response and preparedness, and the importance of science and cultural diplomacy.

For 10 years, conference co-organizer and Associate Professor of Anthropology Maria Curtis has been taking UH-Clear Lake students to countries in the Arab world, including Oman and Turkey and has been a faculty sponsor for the Model Arab League, a program that immerses students in researching politics and policy making in the Arab world. “We’ve been able to build a very special relationship with the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center. Each year, they choose one American university to host their annual conference. They’ve chosen us for this year, and we’re so honored to have this opportunity.”

Curtis said that 20 experts from across multiple scientific disciplines will be speaking at the conference. “Her Excellency Hunaina Al Mughairy, ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to the United States, will be in attendance, and five of the speakers are leading Omani government experts in technology, climatology, and oil and gas,” she said. “We will also hear perspectives from American corporations and academics, community leaders, and practitioners who will discuss and share methods that we know have worked historically in times of natural disasters We’re finding ways to use and share the knowledge we already have across disciplinary boundaries.”

UHCL Senior Lecturer of Environmental Management Kathleen Garland, who is co-organizing the event with Curtis, said that the overarching discussion is about sustainability and resilience in an oil-producing region as climate changes. “Oman is struggling with that, and UHCL is the perfect place to talk about this because we are struggling the same way,” she said. “We are ideal for this discussion because this is the location of the Houston Ship Channel and so many oil refineries. Houston and Oman are both low-lying places with enormous oil infrastructure that is vulnerable to a rising sea level. There are great parallels between Texas and Oman, but also Houston and Oman.”

Kamlesh P. Lulla, director of the University Research Collaboration and Partnership Office at NASA Johnson Space Center will be delivering the event’s luncheon keynote. Lulla, an internationally respected scientist and research executive, said that he would share his insights on the importance of science diplomacy at universities. “Science diplomacy is the use of science, engineering, and technology to foster international collaborations and create international conditions to further interest, which at the same time will result in prosperity and peaceful coexistence between nations,” he said.

“It’s a great achievement that engineers can talk despite whatever is happening politically,” Lulla continued. “It’s important to talk about science diplomacy in global context, and how to get students to experience science diplomacy so they’re not just technical people but they can use their skills in developing international relationships in the global community we live in.”

Kathleen Ridolfo, executive director of the SQCC, said that the conference provided an opportunity to build relations between the Sultanate and the university and broader community. “It is our hope that the conference will serve as a starting point between UHCL and Oman,” she said. “By sharing experiences, we can learn from each other and we hope to find common points of interest that may lead to future collaboration and change.”

“The philosophy behind science diplomacy is to find ways to share information and data from different perspectives, so as to develop the most comprehensive response in the event of a natural disaster,” Curtis said. “It’s strange to think of flood-producing storms in the desert, however Oman is experiencing a greater number of cyclones and it’s a coastal country as well. Their interest is to learn from Houston and to connect with us, because in Texas, we have some of the most developed emergency management systems in the country, particularly in the wake of recent hurricanes, from Katrina to Harvey.”

She added that Oman and UHCL view this conference as the beginning of future collaborations, the four panels are structured to produce action-oriented conversations. “We need all these multidisciplinary perspectives if we’re all going to deliver the most effective responses to our current climate challenges.”

The conference participants’ and Omani delegates’ visit to Houston will include a tour of Houston TranStar, NASA, and the Clear Lake area’s Exploration Green Conservancy. To offer them a taste of Houston cuisine, Red River Bar-B-Que is sponsoring their lunch.

Register for the conference online. 


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