Fordham has launched the Interdisciplinary Collaborative on Health, Environment and Human Performance, in partnership with Yvonne Cagle, M.D., a physician and astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The collaborative aims to pursue excellence and innovation in medical, behavioral, and environmental research, education, and technology development.

Operating under the auspices of GSS, the collaborative will promote interdisciplinary research across the University, as well as between the University and its external partners and communities—for instance, the Bronx Science Consortium. Debra McPhee, Ph.D., dean of GSS, will oversee the collaborative at Fordham, while Cagle will serve as a visiting professor at GSS. In this position, Cagle will offer her research and medical expertise and provide access to the innovative technologies and research capabilities of her professional affiliates.

“This partnership will offer unique opportunities not just at GSS, but for faculty and students across disciplines at Fordham,” McPhee said.

A partnership between Cagle and McPhee began long before the collaborative came into being. The pair collaborated on advanced technology projects in Silicon Valley while McPhee was serving as chief operating officer for an online health education and technology company in Palo Alto, California.

When McPhee became the dean of GSS in 2013, the two innovators saw an opportunity for continued collaboration.

“Fordham stepped up in a huge way to support that dialogue, and from there we approached the NASA Ames Research Center and shared our vision with them,” Cagle said. “They were equally supportive and very honored to be able to bring Fordham University into the relationship with the agency.”

Fordham researchers will have the opportunity to become involved with Cagle’s ongoing projects—such as NASA’s plans to send a mission to Mars, to dispatch a 100-year starship, and, ultimately, to initiate human exploration and settlement in deep space.

Factoring psychological, social, and behavioral dynamics into these missions is so important, Cagle said, that the kind of expertise Fordham researchers could offer ranks as high as managing radiation exposure and maintaining crew health and fitness.

“At the core of these missions is a human element in partnership with robotics—but you’re always going to need the human there to make real-time decisions,” Cagle said. “That’s why the psychosocial components that GSS deals with are right up there in the top three make-or-break challenges that we face when it comes to humans thriving in space.”

The collaborative, McPhee said, will also open up opportunities “to compete for research funding not currently available to members of the Fordham community, specifically NASA research RFPs (requests for proposals).”

The initiative is contracted for three years, but McPhee and Cagle anticipate a long-lasting partnership.

“It’ll be a bold new world—or maybe new worlds,” Cagle said.

— Joanna Klimaski Mercuri


Joanna Klimaski Mercuri is a staff writer in the News & Media Relations Bureau. She can be reached at (212) 636-7175 or [email protected]