The official blog of Evergreen's Graduate Program on the Environment

Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2015

By Rhianna Hruska, 2nd Year MES Student.

I flew into San Diego International the morning of June 24, 2015, just in time for the start of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) 2015 Conference at the University of California, San Diego.  While taking the first year core class for MES, gCORE, I was talking with MES Professor Shangrila Wynn about my interests in Environmental Anthropology.  Professor Wynn recommended that I join the AESS listserv to learn more about opportunities within the field.  When the call for AESS abstracts went out, I applied to present right away.  I would not have thought I’d be attending the AESS conference less than a year later and meeting many of the people who are part of the email listserv, but I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to present a poster of my research.

AESS Poster Presentation

Author’s Poster Presentation at AESS

Along with the poster sessions, there were interdisciplinary workshops, presentations, and panel sessions at the conference.  I  attended a workshop led by Jennifer Joy, a writer and performer who routinely merges the worlds of theater and science.  The three hour workshop consisted of different games meant to keep environmental professionals and academics aware of how they are conveying their research, work, or message.  It also demonstrated that the way we carry ourselves determines whether our message is received with interest and validity.  In the end, it was a lively way to learn how to communicate my research while also meeting brilliant scholars from across the country.

The panel sessions were engaging and featured a wide variety of environmental disciplines.  My favorite panel session was “Reflecting on 30 years of collaborative teaching across disciplines in the Graduate Program on the Environment at The Evergreen State College,” which was presented by Evergreen professors Martha Henderson, Kevin Francis, Erin Martin, Shangrila Wynn, and Kathleen Saul.  In true Evergreen style, the panel session was moved from the tiny classroom that was originally assigned for the session to a location outdoors, where participants were able to enjoy the sun-kissed San Diego weather while learning about Evergreen’s interdisciplinary graduate program.  The setting provided a vibrant dialogue between Evergreen’s professors and representatives from different institutions of higher education.  It was fantastic to see Evergreen’s model and values articulated at the AESS conference.

My poster session was the evening of June 26, 2015.  I talked about my research with Professor Stacy Philpott, researcher Peter Bichier, and the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Urban Garden Project.  My poster, Correlates of native and invasive ant abundance in Central California Urban Gardens, received a wide array of comments, support, and inquiry.

The AESS conference was an invaluable experience and I was able to make connections with people who are passionate about environmental issues.  I hope to attend in 2016, when the conference will be held at American University in Washington, D.C.

A Joint Journey down the MES River

By Julian Close and Jennifer Garlesky, soon to be MES grads.

After two years of vigorous interdisciplinary learning, attending the salmon recovery conference in Vancouver, Washington highlighted our overall educational experience in the MES program.


Julian & Jen at the Salmon Recovery Conference in Vancouver, WA

History in the Making

Flash back to the fall of 2013 during the graduate Conceptualizing Our Regional Environment course, when we worked together studying the impacts of the Buckley Diversion Dam on the White River, Washington.  Sharing a passion for rivers and both having southern roots we quickly became friends. We continued to take classes and write papers focusing on fish and river ecology throughout our time in the program. During Research Design and Quantitative Methods we had the opportunity to attend the Joint Aquatic Science Meeting in Portland, Oregon.  Our main goal was to listen and learn as much as we could from the afternoon session on dam removal. When we got back from lunch the classroom was packed.  Audience members poured into the hallway, so we decided to use the service entrance and enter the back of the room and sit on the floor up front. Our plan worked and we sat for more than two hours taking notes and listening to research on river and fisheries ecology.

Fast-forward to the present day

Jen-At the Salmon Recovery Conference Julian and I used our networking skills to develop leads on future career opportunities. We talked with several consulting firms, federal agencies about their projects and technology experts in the field of restoration and fish biology.

Julian-I attended the conference as a student intern assisting with several sessions.  Other interns hailed from the University of Washington, Tacoma; Washington State University; and Loyola Marymount University.  Highlights from the conference included opening statements from former U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s new director Jim Unsworth. Furthermore, I ran into Evergreen alum and senior ecologist for King County, Mason Bowles, along with Evergreen MES alum and habitat biologist for the Yakima Nation, Scott Nicolai, at the  Reconnecting Floodplains: Side Channels and More session.  The research presented was enlightening and thoughtful.  The conference has spring-boarded me into life after MES by providing the opportunity to reconnect with old colleagues and make new professional contacts.


Scott Nicolai & Mason Bowles at the 5th Biennial Salmon Recovery Conference

Jen-I attended the conference on the second day. I used to attend conferences for my job prior to grad school and I never fully grasped some of the content. After completing this degree and completing my own research I was able to talk with experts in the field about my work. I followed up with some contacts and they requested to see my research. I feel proud of my experience and I know that it is only going to advance from here. The MES program has helped me in so many ways that cannot be summed up in just one blog post.


Professor Kathleen Saul signing Julian & Jen’s Theses

Future Goals

Jen-As we both get ready to graduate in a few days I know that we will continue to remain friends. We have both supported each other through our ups and downs over the course of the past two years. There is a common phrase around raising children: “it takes a village.” Well, it takes a village to complete grad school. We both recommend that current and future MES students invest in their classmates, and find those people that spark your fire and will support you.


Association of American Geographers Conference 2015

By Amory Ballantine, MES 2nd Year Student.

On April 22, I took a long train ride to Chicago to attend the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Over 7,000 geographers from all over the world were registered to attend. My candidacy paper, submitted in the fall, was picked up for a session on immigration in the Americas. I was sick– came down with something a day before– but was determined to present and participate anyway.

photo credit Hannah Awcock 2015

Photo Credit: Hannah Awcock 2015

I made my way through the packed Hyatt lobby– people in business suits with AAG lanyards covered every slightly out-of-the-way space on each floor, typing away at what frequently appeared to be last-minute tweaks of presentation materials. After the third session of “Decolonization, resistance and resurgence,” (which included discussions of tensions between anarchism’s synergy with decolonization and simultaneous tendencies of settler-dominated anarchist organizing to ignore complexities such as dependence on the state in colonized communities), I took my own computer and a peanut butter sandwich to an unoccupied corner and went over my presentation.

I was first to speak in my session. My paper, “Limits of Dominion: Tracing Environmental Impacts of the Physical and Biometric U.S.-Mexico Border,” studied environmental impacts of the militarized border– both the literal, physical border wall and Gloria Anzaldua’s idea of the border as something flexible and mobile, located in laws, culture, and racialized bodies. I heard from the audience that, while the border wall and environmental racism linked with citizenship have been studied extensively, my presentation was the first they’d seen to discuss its connections with impacts on flora and fauna! I was the only presenter who was not working on their dissertation or already with a Ph.D, and it was terrifying to present my ideas to that audience. I was thrilled by their thoughtful and supportive responses, and the rest of the presentations were fascinating.

Richard Jones discussed spatial distributions of reasons behind recent increases in unaccompanied and unauthorized minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, comparing sites of Central American gang and drug activity with the regions children are predominantly coming from. Sean Crotty showed that temporary hiring sites for day-laborers in San Diego tend to spring up near former agricultural land, in owner-occupied neighborhoods, and near easily accessible big box home improvement stores. Vincent Kuuire discussed the impact of transnational remittances on immigrants’ home ownership (and attendant social and economic integration) in Canada. Finally, Kathryn Dennler presented her research on unauthorized immigrants’ experiences of waiting for citizenship in Canada, differentiating between “active” and “passive” waiting behaviors (people adjust priorities to cope with “waiting”), and questioning the purpose of current temporary worker programs: “It’s so predictable that migrants will stay– one has to wonder whether the government intends to create a permanent population of undocumented people.”

While participating in the meeting was a bit overwhelming at first (given the number of attendees and activities), it was great to meet other geographers and gain experience presenting! I’m excited to go and share the results of my thesis work next year at the conference in the Bay Area.

Good Food, People, and Cause: GRuB’s 9th annual Day of the Bed Event

By Ashlie Tainer, 1st Year MES Student.

It didn’t take long after moving to Olympia in the Fall of 2014 before a local non-profit called GRuB seemed to keep popping up in conversation. I originally heard of GRuB from my roommate, who was interning for them at the time. GRuB stands for Garden-Raised Bounty, and it’s their mission to inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture. They do this by partnering with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual and community food solutions.  There are several arms of GRuB, such as their agriculture-based alternative education, employment, and drop-out prevention programs. GRuB also serves the community through their Kitchen Garden Project (KGP), Growing Veterans program, and Community Support Agriculture (CSA) share.

Dancing Photo

Jo Arlow Photography

One day, my roommate came home with a job description of an internship GRuB was hiring for. I was already looking for ways to get involved with their work and after a few weeks I became GRuB’s Event Coordinator Intern, specifically responsible for planning their annual spring fundraiser called the Day of the Bed.

My position was a part of the Kitchen Garden Project (KGP), which partners with organizations and low-income people to create backyard and neighborhood food solutions. We connect people with the sustainable food movement by providing access to the knowledge and resources needed to grow fresh, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods. Started in 1993 by Richard Doss and inspired by the Home Gardening Project in Portland, OR, the KGP has built over 2,500 free backyard and community gardens for low-income people throughout Puget Sound.

The work GRuB does in the community is large, although the budget we have to work with is small. My job was to plan the  9th annual Day of the Bed Event, where community members and organizations participate on volunteer teams to raise money to support the cost of up to two backyard kitchen gardens, and then build the gardens along side the families receiving them. Following the garden builds was our KGP Build Season Kick-off Party and Potluck, for which I invited GRuB’s new and alumni gardeners, their mentors and the neighbors to come and celebrate with our staff and volunteer build teams.

I spent the first three months of my six-month internship posting flyers, sending emails, making in-person contacts and giving presentations to advertise the Day of the Bed and the opportunity to support a backyard kitchen garden for a local family who identifies as low-income and is interested in growing their own healthy food. I had teams signing up all the way until the week before the event, and ended with 11 total. The teams consisted of volunteers ranging from a variety of local businesses and organizations, such as The Brotherhood Lounge, the East and Westside Food-Coops, West Olympia Rotary Club, Slow Food Greater Olympia, Washington Service Corps, Girl Scout Troop #45294, the Office of Assigned Counsel, YWCA, and the GRuB School Alum and Board.

Each team’s goal was to raise $1,000, which covers the material and building costs of two backyard kitchen gardens. During the weeks prior to the Day of the Bed, teams rallied by holding raffles, creating Go-Fund-Me accounts, and reaching out to friends and family. The Girl Scout troop I worked with were the most motivated and enthusiastic group of 10- and 11-year-olds I have encountered to this day, and pledged to meet their fundraising goal by holding a garage sale-car wash-bake sale-lemonade stand, all mixed into one event. Their energy was contagious and every team carried their attitude throughout their own fundraising efforts.

Girl Scout Team Photo

Girl Scouts at GRuB – Jo Arlow Photography

We expected to accommodate an average of 70 individuals throughout the event, and that meant we needed food and hydration for all of them. We received large amounts of in-kind donations and support from local restaurants and farms, such as the Blue Heron and San Francisco Street Bakeries, Bagel Brothers, Starbucks, The Fresh Approach, Sullivan’s Homestead, Rising River Farm, and Kirsop Farm.

Throughout the week of the 9th annual Day of the Bed, I drove our trusty dump truck, “The Beast,” around to all eleven build sites to drop off lumber, soil, and tools in preparation for the big event. Every new gardener received three 8×4 raised gardens beds, seeds, starts and GRuB’s growing guide.  The KGP is committed to a gardener’s success and also provides volunteer mentors and free access to GRuB’s extensive gardening workshop series for those interested.

After 6 months of planning, coordinating and playing in the dirt, the Day of the Bed was finally here. On Saturday, May 9th, the eleven volunteer teams arrived at 9am to turn in their total funds raised and enjoy a free breakfast, while mingling with their GRuB lead builders and fellow teams. The weather was the warmest it had been all year and the GRuB farm was buzzing with excitement. In true GRuB style, we started the event with a circle-up and activity to get everyone acquainted. We took team photos and a large group photo before sending the build teams off to their build sites with our traditional cheer, “Go, GRuB, Grow!”

Marks photo

Jo Arlow Photography

Each of the builds took an average of two hours, and other than a few bent nails and one bruised arm, everything went off without a hitch. All of the build teams paraded back to the farm when they were finished, and were greeted with a delicious potluck and live music from the local family band, Fiddlie-I-Ay. The event included homemade Kombucha from the Bucha Mama Boys and picnic tables adorned with flowers from GRuB’s farm, and concluded with partner square dancing on the grass field in the sun.

Band Photo

Fiddlie-I-Ay ~ Jo Arlow Photography

Overall, GRuB’s 9th annual Day of the Bed was a huge success and 11 teams from our community built 11 Kitchen Garden Project gardens in a single morning. Together, the teams raised over $7,000 to cover to cost of up to 15 backyard kitchen gardens. We had successfully put the day to rest.

Photos and additional information on GRuB and ways to get involved can be found on their website or Facebook page

Combining Perspectives for Comprehensive Environmental Management

By Sean Greene, 2nd Year MES Student.


Conference Program Cover

Running from April 15 to April 17, 2015, the joint annual conference between the Washington Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the Society of American Foresters offered me a unique opportunity to interact with and present my research to hundreds of my peers. In particular, it opened up a subset of scientists that my work as a biologist for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) does not normally allow for overlap with, namely foresters. Prior to the start of the conference, on April 14, I attended a class taught by the organizers titled “Forestry for Biologists,” which did exactly what the billing might suggest, namely instructing wildlife biologists on the basics of forestry management. Topics included: dendrochronology, the study of annual rings in trees; how to determine total merchantable board feet from a tree using only a diameter at breast-height and height measurement combined with tree species; the importance of snags, or standing dead trees, to local ecology; and much more.


Dr. Jerry Franklin & Bill Richardson

A few conference topics stood out in particular both for their challenging of current paradigms and the intense debate that was sparked as a result. The first of these began with a presentation by Dr. Jerry Franklin, considered by many to be the “old growth guru” of the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Franklin has built a long, distinguished career touting the importance of preserving old growth forests from harvesting due to their vital role as habitat for a number of vulnerable species. In his presentation at this conference, however, he took the opportunity to defend early seral (succession) stage forests instead. Dr. Franklin stated unequivocally that these “young” forests were absolutely essential to maintaining species richness and biomass levels in the Pacific Northwest, but are being eliminated by overzealous logging efforts that leave behind nothing more than wide swathes of brush. These thoughts were echoed by Bill Richardson of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who spoke to the plight of elk populations that are being deprived of their preferred early seral stage forests by over logging, significantly impacting population levels. These perspectives are especially valuable in the Pacific Northwest where old growth forests are held on a pedestal, almost to the exclusion of all other seral stages.


Dr. Lowell Diller & Harvested Barred Owl

The second presentation that drew my notice, and a fair bit of discourse among attendees, was a presentation by Dr. Lowell Diller, a biological consultant, discussing how to support Spotted Owl populations through the culling of Barred Owls. Dr. Diller discussed his experimental design for a series of cullings of Barred Owls, a bird native to the Eastern US that has progressively out-competed Spotted Owls, a species listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act, for habitat. Any collection of biologists is obviously going to be uncomfortable with the notion of killing one animal to benefit another, but Dr. Diller gave a solid, measured argument for why his method was the best available to protect biodiversity. In the interests of making as little disturbance as possible, Dr. Diller uses a silenced shotgun to minimize noise pollution, fake owl mannequins and electronic hoots to mimic the targeted species, and takes special care to take down both individuals in a nesting pair so the remaining owls don’t suffer through the loss of a mate or learn to avoid future culling efforts. A number of tests and measurements are taken for each harvested Barred Owl and the skins are preserved and donated to museums or universities, so every effort has been made by Dr. Diller to ensure that this admittedly uncomfortable management method is as scientific as possible.

Finally, my presentation covered the use of several GIS (Geographic Information System) tools named Kernel Density and Hot Spot Analysis in order to track deer populations statewide through WSDOT’s Wildlife Carcass Removal Database. This was a project that I helped 2014 MES graduate Stacey Plumley with both in my role as a MES student and an intern with WSDOT. My presentation seemed well-received and there proved to be a fair bit of interest with our results, especially with a Montana graduate student studying deer populations on Whidbey Island and a Deer Researcher with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This conference was an invaluable opportunity for me to hone my presentation skills and expand my educational horizons beyond my particular area of focus by gathering the perspectives of people from a variety of disciplines and states.

Looking back at CONFORWest 2015

By Rhianna Hruska, MES Communications Assistant & 1st Year MES Student.

As a newcomer to Washington State, I had only heard of the beauty of the San Juan Islands, but had yet to explore the islands myself.  So when the opportunity to attend CONFORWest 2015 arose, I knew I had to go.  CONFORWest is an interdisciplinary forestry and environmental studies conference for graduate students. The 2015 conference was held at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories from February 5-8th, 2015.  Though the forecast predicted intimidating storms, once we arrived the weather was consistently pleasant for the entirety of our stay.  We took a ferry from Anacortes, WA to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, and I got to meet a few of the conference attendees on the ferry ride over.  The town of Friday Harbor was easy to navigate and included local coffeeshops, bookstores, a whale museum, and seafood restaurants.  It was a convenient twenty minute walk between UW’s Friday Harbor Labs and the town itself.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.14 PM

Whale Museum at Friday Harbor

I was blown away by the variety of presentations given at the conference.  One student from the University of British Columbia had collaborated with a video game company to create a fun and interactive game for elementary students to better understand how mycorrhizae impact their environment.  Another student from the University of Montana was studying the levels of stress experienced by deer due to airplane traffic in the region.  A Masters student from Simon Fraser University did qualitative research on environmental behaviors and perceptions in Canada.  A 2nd year MES student presented their research with the Washington State Department of Transportation that included data on deer populations from the Wildlife Carcass Removal Database.  I presented on ant species in Northern California and the presence of native and invasive species.  The eclectic mix of presentations and posters allowed me to learn more about topics in Environmental Studies and to pick up techniques from being exposed to other graduate students’ experimental designs.  I also enjoyed getting to know MES 2nd/3rd years that I had not met through elective classes.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.41 PMThe keynote speakers were also inspiring and had incredible research stories to tell.  The first keynote speaker was Pema Kitaeff, who works for the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories.  Pema spoke about what it is like to be a part of a research diving team at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  The divers were collecting data on nudibranch species.  The talk included photos from Pema’s six weeks at McMurdo and we had a chance to ask many questions about what life was like conducting research at McMurdo.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.35 PMThe second keynote speaker was Constance Sullivan.  Constance manages the Ocean Acidification Environmental Laboratory (OACEL) at the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories.  Conference attendees were able to tour the OACEL before the talk.  Constance talked about the importance of ocean acidification research and its impact on the health of the environment in the Puget Sound.  Summer classes are available at Friday Harbor Labs and the classes can potentially be applied for MES elective credit with the proper permission.


Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.29 PMThe third keynote speaker was Professor Richard Bigley, who is a member of the MES adjunct faculty.  Richard Bigley is also a forest ecologist for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.  Richard’s talk was on the historical use of resources in Cuba and the global events that influence their economy.  Professor Richard Bigley and Professor Dina Roberts will be leading an MES elective, Tropical Ecology, in Winter Quarter 2016 that includes a two week field trip to Costa Rica.

CONFORWest 2016 is looking for a core group of dedicated graduate students from any university to plan the conference.  Incoming MES students are welcome to be on the board.  The graduate students who are a part of the board will receive free admission to the conference and valuable planning skills to add to their resumes.  Though other positions can be created depending on a member’s skill set, here are some positions that the board will be needing: funding coordinator, treasurer, secretary, web page manager, activities planner, academic coordinator, and social media planner.  CONFORWest 2015’s planning committee consisted of several MES 2nd/3rd year students, an Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Ph.D. student from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, and a graduate student from the University of Alberta.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.57.06 PM

Jakle’s Lagoon, San Juan Island

All of the photographs used in this post and more information on CONFORWest 2015 can be found at  If you are interested on being on the board to plan CONFORWest 2016 or have any other questions, please feel free to email me at


Olympia, Washington: Here I Come!

By Stephen D’Annibale, MES Admit Fall 2015.  

After having graduated with a degree in Geography from San Diego State University and having worked several years in the natural resource management field, I decided to advance my career and pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Studies. I learned about The Evergreen State College through a friend, researched MES, applied, and I am pleased to say that I have been admitted to the Fall 2015 cohort!

Image of Dr. Kathy Wolf

Dr. Kathy Wolf speaking at the 2015 Rachel Carson Forum. Photo credit: Kennedy Krossen, MES 1st Year

Last week, for the first time ever, I traveled to Washington from California, then bussed to Olympia to attend the MES Admitted Student Afternoon and the MES 30th Anniversary Celebration. The admitted student afternoon was very informative, and I learned a lot about the abundance of opportunities that the program has to offer. Several students spoke about the diverse collection of projects that they were involved with, such as the Sustainability in Prisons Project. There was also an alumni panel, where a handful of graduates from the past years spoke about the variety of careers that they had been involved in since they graduated. After the evening ended, we attended the Rachel Carson Forum where we saw two interesting and inspiring presentations. The first was delivered by Gail O’Sullivan and Karen Nelson. These two brilliant women founded and now manage The Commons community garden/sustainable green space, as well as the Fertile Ground Guesthouse in Olympia. The second half of the forum was presented by Dr. Kathy Wolf from the University of Washington, who taught us about urban ecology and natural resource stewardship.

The following day, a small group of newly accepted MES students, alumni, and I went on a tour around campus. We passed through the organic farm first, where we learned all about the aquaponics greenhouse, the crops, and the cute goats. I was very impressed with the farm, and the staff were very knowledgeable and passionate about their work. Afterwards, we went for a walk through the forest, checked out the pretty beach, had a delicious dinner downtown, and enjoyed Olympia’s annual Spring Arts Walk and luminary procession (a part of the annual Procession of the Species).

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 5.28.17 PM

MES alum Drissia Ras at the MES 30th Celebration Brunch. Photo credit: Kennedy Krossen, MES 1st Year

Saturday was the MES 30th Anniversary celebration. In the morning, we ate a delicious breakfast while hearing from current and past faculty, program directors, and alumni. It was fascinating to see that the alumni have come from all over the world and to hear about the diversity of careers that they had developed. After seeing so many people having wonderful experiences both during and after their MES program, and after having explored the beautiful campus and the charming town of Olympia, it has been no trouble for me to accept my admittance into the program. I’m very excited to begin my graduate studies in the fall, and I am happy to start a new chapter of my life in Olympia.

Presenting at a Climate Change Conference: A story of opportunity, sacrifice, and unexpected collaborations

By Danae Presler, 1st Year MES student and Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellow.


How I looked…………..& How I felt!

The student worker at the information desk hollers out “Last call for printing, closing up shop in 10 minutes.” It’s 11:50 PM on a Wednesday night and I’m huddled over a monitor, angrily fidgeting with a chart that does not want to fit on one page. It’s me versus Apple’s weird version of Word in a race against time. This chart is the last page of the last report I need to print off. The heaps of already printed reports are sprawled out to my right and left, overtaking neighboring workspaces that were abandoned hours ago. I settle for a smaller font than I should and hit print. Then it’s a quick sprint to my bike, a 4.5 mile ride home, and 15 steps to my bed where I promptly collapse after a long and frantic day. I set the alarm for 5:00 AM, turn out the light, and make a mental list of what remains to be done in the morning. In a few hours, I’ll be on my way to Canada to give my first presentation at an academic conference.

For the past year and a half I have been working with Ned Crosby, a political scientist, and Larry Pennings, a professional moderator, in researching, designing, and testing methods of discussing climate change and climate policies that might allow diverse groups of people to find common ground on the issue. A method that accomplishes this would be useful in many contexts, however, we have the U.S. Congress in mind. Currently, Congress is gridlocked on the issue of climate change, but does it have to be this way? We don’t think so.

Our research suggests that framing the issue of climate change from a risk management perspective can potentially bypass political headbutting that has characterized so many efforts to date, and enable people to find common ground without requiring agreement on all the scientific claims. So far, we’ve conducted four small-scale studies with groups of citizens who were chosen to roughly represent the views of the American public on climate change (in other words, people who don’t agree on the issue). Each study taught us important lessons about what works well and what doesn’t. I was heading to the International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses in Vancouver, B.C. to share our findings with academics and professionals from around the world and search for collaborators.

Several weeks before the conference I received a much anticipated email– my proposal to present at the poster session was accepted! Then, for reasons I still do not entirely understand, a week before the conference they signed me up to give a 20-minute talk instead. This was a big deal in my book. I would be sharing the stage with an experienced research team from the U.K. and a doctoral candidate from Iceland. At first, I was ecstatic. The words ‘professional development’ and ‘resume building’ played in my mind. However, when my alarm went off at 5:00 AM on Thursday morning most of those good feelings had been replaced with ill feelings of unpreparedness.

Thankfully, I had seven hours on three buses between Olympia and Canada to get my slideshow in order, whip together an elevator speech, and figure out how to make a website to house electronic versions of the reports I brought with me. Admittedly, I slept for half of the trip and had to spend my free time in the evenings and mornings finishing things up. Just after lunch on Friday, my friend and MES classmate Madeline Goodwin showed up and offered advice, moral support, and some much needed comic relief.


Making friends at the bus stop

The conference itself was a mixed bag. The stats were impressive. We had representatives from 40 countries and from every continent but Antarctica! There were researchers from both social and natural sciences, officials from Canada, island nations, and elsewhere, citizens representing NGOs from all over the place, and the halls were teeming with graduate scholars. For a compulsive networker like me, it was paradise! Yet, it was not as inclusive or interdisciplinary as I was expecting. There was a heavy emphasis on Canada and the U.S. and not enough insight into situations in developing nations or social justice and indigenous perspectives, in my opinion. Additionally, while the conference was advertised as interdisciplinary, for the most part it was a hodge podge of disciplines; lacking the crucial integration that transcends projects from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary. With a couple of worthy exceptions, the vast majority of presentations were very specific and tightly focused on a particular region, species, policy, or program, which was typically examined from only one discipline or field of study. Presentations were lumped into themes, often with natural and social scientists presenting one after the other, but because of the specialization of projects and little or no communication between speakers, the presentations were still quite disjointed. Yet, overall I was impressed with the breadth and depth of topics and was delighted to be a part of it.

What about those reports I was frantically working on into the wee hours of the night, you ask? Nobody read them. Not a single soul so much as skimmed them. It was a little disheartening to think of all the time I had spent putting them together, when I could have been climbing Mount Rainier or lounging on a beach in Key West (okay, let’s be real, I would have been doing homework or sleeping). The day after the conference, I worked up the nerve to call my boss. The conference and my presentation went well, I told him, but I begrudgingly admitted that I didn’t get any real interest in our work. Got a few “that sounds like exciting work” or “I’m glad you’re looking into that,” but no one who wanted to pursue the project further. Or so I thought, until a few days ago.

Out of the blue I got an email from a woman who works for the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines who went to my presentation and looked over the reports online and would like to work with us to adapt our method for a project she is working on. Her vision is different than what we intended our project for. Rather than using it to get U.S. Congress to take action on climate change, she’d like to use it to promote long-term sustainable food practices in her country in the face of a changing climate. It’s too soon to tell where this road will take us, but one thing’s for certain: I wouldn’t be on it if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone in two critical ways. The first was to present at a conference, and the second was to teach myself how to create a website and upload PDFs, thereby making our work accessible to the masses. You can peruse the reports for yourself at

I would like to thank the MESA Professional Development Fund for granting me a scholarship to attend this conference. It has opened many doors for me, and may have even fostered collaboration across disciplines and nations. Stay tuned!

Why I’m attending the “30 Years of MES” events on April 25th

By Hugh O’Neill, MES Alum ’90.

Well, in three words: context, community and celebration.

Context: I think it can be helpful, at times, to revisit our own and hear others’ stories to see how we got to where we are today (and where we might be going).  The MES 30 event is an opportunity to take stock and remember why we chose to spend time in Olympia, at Evergreen, studying the important environmental issues and questions of our day.   I also want to honor our MES lineage and express gratitude for the founders and shepherds that created and nurtured the program for three decades.  The MES years were an important part of my history and helped to launch and sustain my life direction.

Community: With nearly 700 MES grads and dozens of program faculty and staff over the last 30 years, we have a built-in community of folks with a common foundation of environmental understandings and shared experiences.  The MES 30 events are an opportunity to meet and scheme with familiar classmates and new potential allies (we could even create something new).  I’m looking forward to:

  • Connecting with long-time friends and fellow alumni and staff of different backgrounds and ages;
  • Swapping stories about our interests and passions, successes and mistakes, life lessons and learnings; and
  • Exploring ways to support one another and nourish our networks and endeavors.

Celebration: It should be a blast!  There are plans for good food, fun music, great people and a festive atmosphere.  Let’s raise a glass to our shared accomplishments, reflect on where we have been, and hatch some plans to make the next 30 years even better.


Hugh O’Neill in his frisbee-catching days.

See you there,

Hugh O’Neill (1984 cohort)

Who Needs the Taj Mahal When There’s Research to Do?

By Kathleen Saul, MES Core Faculty & MES ’09.

I have not seen the Taj Mahal.  I have not visited the Virupaksha Temple.  I have not yet been inspired by the softly flowing River Ganga or the stately Himalayas.  I have not ridden an elephant.  I have, however, become quite fond of the inexpensive three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that dart in and out of traffic in the cities of India.  I have wandered the hillsides near Mumbai being where hundreds of volunteers replant trees and native shrubs in an effort to combat the destruction of India’s forests and open spaces.   I have observed the rooftop solar thermal installations now mandatory in Thane.  I have marveled at the creative use of food waste from hotels and restaurants to provide heat and hot water at a local hospital.  I also have seen the anguish on the faces of farmers and villagers whose homes and lands would soon disappear behind the rising waters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.46.06 AMI returned from my third trip to the state of Maharashtra on the western coast of India at the beginning of April.  My trips have focused on learning about the people of that region, their needs, the work they are doing to supplement the programs implemented by the government, and the many means being used to bring electricity and energy to the rich and the poor, the cities and the rural communities.  This most recent trip was devoted to learning about the impact of the proposed construction of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project–the world’s largest nuclear power complex (six 1650 MW reactors)–on the people of the villages near the chosen site.  Although I could write endlessly about the technology and environmental issues associated with that proposed facility, I wanted to better understand its social implications.  What did people understand about the proposed facility?  How did they get that information?  What impact did they think it would have on their lives and livelihoods (if any)?

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.44.59 AM

Fishing as a livelihood

A friend, documentarian, and former employee of the Indian nuclear industry accompanied me on my trip.  He had arranged interviews and focus groups in the villages and served as translator when the participants did not or preferred not to speak in English.  I also engaged a local driver and car to get us from place to place on the narrow, often packed dirt, roads.  The air conditioned car was often a welcome escape from the temperatures that ran in mid-90s, with humidity about 90%.

I had been advised that many people in the area surrounding the plant site had not seen foreigners before and that some of the communities were 99% Muslim, with women dressed in black burkas even in the heat of the day.  I wore conservative Indian clothing (a kurta or salwar kameez) but still stood out due to my pale skin, blue eyes, and the fact that I was a head taller than most people.  The little kids stared and giggled nervously.   Taking their picture and showing them the image on the back of my camera did wonders for breaking the ice.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.48.09 AM

Author Kathleen Saul with new friends.

While in the Jaitapur area, I stayed in an agro-tourism B & B.  The building was surrounded by mango trees as far as the eye could see.  Lucky for me, mango season started just as my visit came to a close and I did get to sample the most heavenly Alfonso mangoes I have ever tasted.  The B & B also had a garden from which they plucked the day’s vegetables—lots of fresh spinach, bitter gourds, and okra—served along with flat bread (potato paratha, dosa (made from fermented rice), roti, or chipati) and a variety of lentil dishes.  No meat at any meal, but I didn’t miss it!  The entire second floor of the building was an al fresco dining room with a long glass-topped table, plush chairs and an ornate chandelier, which was rather awkward since there were only two of us staying there at the time.

I learned that monkeys love mangoes.  We saw them perched in trees or sitting on roadside mile markers, sampling raw fruit.  I also had a close encounter of the monkey kind one afternoon when the dogs belonging to the B & B separated one monkey from a pack running through the mango grove.  The disoriented monkey tried to scale the wall of the kitchen, then came running across the porch, not two feet from where I had taken refuge behind a porch swing!   It then vaulted from a porch chair across a mud-brick wall and into the driveway beyond.

My encounters with people took place on beaches, in the fish market, in an empty schoolhouse classroom, standing next to the car, in the home of the local sarpanch (head of the village)—wherever and whenever convenient for those with whom I wished to speak.  I took copious notes.  I also recorded meetings with groups of people so I can learn more from the side conversations—information not captured in those notes.  I also observed.  I marveled at the empty beaches and lovely sunsets over the rocky coast.  I watched the fishermen ply their nets in the bay.  I watched them unload the day’s catch, basket load by basket load into waiting trucks.  I was astonished by how quickly the women at the fish market could sort those fish by species and sell them to waiting customers.  I observed the differences in the homes of those farmers who received a good sum of money for their lands and those who had no land to sell for the project.  I scanned the land deemed “barren” by the government but used by the locals for grazing cattle, or as a source of grass for fertilizing rice crops, or as a source of pea gravel which could be sold to construction companies.  I studied the faces of the people I met, trying to understand the emotion behind their words.  I took hundreds of photographs.  All those data will supplement my interview notes and technical information about the project provided by the various government agencies.

Maybe the next time I visit India I will see the Taj Mahal.  In the meantime, I have wonderful memories of the fascinating people I have met and the astonishingly beautiful place I have visited, far off the beaten tourist track.


Kathleen in the midst of taking copious notes


« Older posts

© 2015 MESsages
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

Log inUp ↑