By Kevin Francis, Graduate Program on the Environment Director.
I have been obsessively checking the weather forecast for Eatonville this week. For the past two weeks in gCORE we have been preparing for a field trip to Pack Forest and Mount Rainier. We read about the history of ecological succession and studied primary production and nutrient cycling in forests. We read Jon Luoma’s The Hidden Forest, a compelling account of research at H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. And we dissected an article describing research conducted at Pack Forest on the long-term consequences of fertilization on forest productivity. During our visit, we will collect data that extends the original study—“completed” in 2006—to 2014. Field trips in mid-October can be a soggy affair but we have (mostly) lucked out on weather the past couple of years. We will, of course, be out in the field even if it’s cold and rainy—but that does not stop me from stalking Eatonville on www.wunderground.com.
A key strength of the Graduate Program on the Environment is that the director is also a fully engaged faculty member. By continuing to teach in gCORE, I can share my knowledge of the history of ecology and my love of Pacific Northwest landscapes. As important, I get to know each incoming student through our interactions in the classroom and in the field, which helps when it comes to advising students as they progress through the program. As I discussed thesis topics with many second-year students over the past few weeks, I thought about how different these conversations would be if we had not worked together for three quarters last year.
As the incoming director, my most important work this year was to recruit faculty who can provide strong core programs and elective courses. Building on the work of the previous director, Martha Henderson, we now have six full-time core faculty: Erin Martin, Dina Roberts, and I are continuing in the program; Kathleen Saul (MES ’09) and Peter Dorman are returning faculty members; and Shangrila Wynn is teaching in MES for the first time. We bring to the program diverse academic and professional experiences—I encourage you to check out our web profiles for further information.
Our program also has an impressive group of part-time faculty teaching elective courses. I’m especially excited to have a new part-time faculty member teaching an expanded curriculum in spatial analysis. Mike Ruth, a long-time project manager at ESRI, will be teaching Introduction to GIS each spring and Advanced GIS each fall. Our hope is that this configuration will meet strong demand among our students and provide a more systematic pathway for them. Students who want to develop core GIS skills can take the spring course in their first or second year; students who want more advanced GIS training and practice can take the fall course, which will be especially useful for those who are embarking on thesis research that involves spatial data.
Looking ahead to spring, we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the MES with events on April 25, 2015. We have a small group of energetic alums and students who are working to make this a great event for everyone who has graduated with an MES degree over the past 30 years. You will hear more from them in the near future. For now, save the date! Alongside this celebration, Karen Gaul (former MES faculty member) will be working with her undergraduate students in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth to conduct oral histories of MES graduates. Please let me know if you are interested in being interviewed for this project or in joining the organizing committee.
Finally, I’m happy to note that tomorrow’s weather forecast for Eatonville is now partly cloudy with less than 5% chance of precipitation. Stay tuned to our blog for pictures of MES students in scenic—perhaps even sun-dappled—forests.
Kevin Francis, Director (email@example.com)