Map of Princeton area with waterways highlighted
A new project is bringing engineers, artists, and anthropologists together with local community members and leaders to design a multi-year plan to mitigate flooding in the Princeton area, while building a model for tackling complex problems through the tools of design thinking. Image courtesy Jeff Himpele, director of Princeton’s Ethnographic Data Visualization Lab

Carolyn Rouse, chair of the anthropology department, will serve as Princeton’s inaugural Ritter Professor, an endowed chair that supports transdisciplinary approaches to addressing society’s most important and complex challenges. Her objective is to engage Princeton faculty and students in projects and curricula that broaden the use and awareness of design that puts people first. 

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Carolyn Rouse, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, director of the Program in African Studies, and inaugural Ritter Professor.

Rouse is currently developing a new course focused on using ethnographic methods taken from anthropology to approach problems of design and innovation. The goal is to produce solutions strengthened by deeper observations of people and systems affected by the design. The class will allow students to work side by side with faculty partners —anthropologists, engineers, humanists, and scientists — on projects that can significantly impact society. 

“You get them to set aside their values and expectations and presumptions in order to ask better questions, to get to a better place, an ethical place,” Rouse said. 

As a Ritter Professor, Rouse will also be leading a design solution project which addresses stormwater and flooding deva-station due to climate change. The project, called “High-Water Mark: Designing Flood Resiliency in New Jersey,” will bring together anthropologists, environmental engineers, and entrepreneurs to mitigate future flood damage to the Princeton community due to rising stormwater levels. 

In bridging engineering and the humanities through design initiatives, Rouse sees an excellent opportunity to “bring the intellectual power of Princeton together with practice in building sustainable solutions.”