Getting to Know the Macmillan Center’s New Deputy Director: Q&A with Melissa Brown Goodall
Melissa, many of us at Yale know you from your work at the Yale Office of Sustainability… What drew you to the Yale MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies?
When I was with Yale Sustainability, two significant portions of my portfolio were global programs and integrating sustainability into the professional schools. The former largely involved cultivating relationships through networks and creating programs for students from around the world. The latter allowed me to get to know the people and the disciplines of the various schools and help to draw connections—both to their spaces on campus and to what they were teaching and researching.
I left Yale for a few years to start the Environmental Innovations Initiative at Penn, which is a program in the Office of the Provost aimed at catalyzing connections between their schools related to climate and the environment. That was a rewarding experience—the people and the place were remarkable—but I opted to return to Yale because I saw in MacMillan a unique opportunity to be part of something bigger and to explore solutions-oriented concepts in a range of disciplines and regions.
What have you been surprised to learn about the MacMillan Center since arriving?
First, during the interview process, I realized MacMillan is bigger than I thought.
Second, when I was an outsider, I had the sense that the folks in each of the councils would probably be narrowly focused on cultural and historical facets of particular regions. There are certainly scholars that revel in deep, place-specific inquiry—which is amazing—but it has been a pleasure to learn that so many of the researchers and programs are exploring timely and critical topics related to climate, gender, equality, and nature.
Third, the global programs are like a pomegranate! There is so much depth and complexity in what they’re doing, it seems like I have years of learning ahead of me—which is a great thing.
All eyes are on the Climate Negotiations right now; can you tell us how you have been involved with those processes?
I will start by saying that I think it is a mistake to sideline climate change as an environmental issue: it was caused by humans and we are urgently addressing it because of its impacts on society, so we need to shift our mindsets to integrate climate inquiry and action into all disciplines. I have been thrilled with how engaged so many of the MacMillan faculty members are on this topic and I have no doubt that our scholarly work can make a difference in the world – both through deep inquiry and through impact-oriented programming.
On the global negotiations, my first foray into the UN climate scene was at the sixth Conference of Parties (COP6). I was with the United Nations Development Programme at the time, and relatively fresh out of grad school. Having that experience as a young professional has informed my tactics since then, which are largely aimed at exposing students to the global negotiations and at elevating the visibility of academia in United Nations processes.
As a senior fellow with the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN), I run a program called the Global University Climate Forum. Every few years, we invite students from around the world to submit their ideas for a project that will yield measurable results at the local scale. We do this in the context of the global negotiations because we want them to showcase how every day choices and local-level leadership can make a difference.
Also on behalf of the ISCN, I am participating in a set of discussions about a “network of networks.” The elevator pitch is that there are countless collectives of universities working on climate, and they are largely doing so in parallel. Our aim is to assess what’s currently happening and create ways to foster synergy.
Much of my professional work has been aimed at elevating the visibility of higher education institutions in the UN system: our research could inform solutions much more directly, and it is important to note that 100% of the negotiators attended university at some point. Were the UN system to establish ways to recognize and place more value on those attributes, it would be valuable to their work and ours. I am fortunate to have recently been appointed as the Vice Chair of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), and this has certainly been part of our discussions there.
I opted not to go to this year’s COP28, but I have plans in the works for the next couple of COPs. I am also talking to the Yale Planetary Solutions team about events in New York during Climate Week in September 2024. I see that as a great opportunity to collaborate across Yale with a lower carbon footprint than traveling to COP.
In case it is of interest, when I was with the Office of Sustainability we created an explainer on the Paris Climate Agreement that features insights from two Yale alumni: Maria Ivanova and Sue Biniaz.
What’s your favorite restaurant in New Haven?
That 100% depends on the mood / occasion. For high-end, Gioia. For mid-range casual, Tibetan Kitchen. For fast-n-tasty, Ixtapa at Long Wharf. And for pizza (which we all know is THE restaurant topic in New Haven)… Next Door. Or maybe One 6 Three. Or Next Door. Or One Six Three… Those are the two best.