Featured articles

  • Community in the Heart of Texas
  • Winter 2015 Director’s Note
  • My Winter Break European Vacation
  • The Benefits of Presenting and Volunteering at a Professional Conference
  • Fall quarter musings: CORE Pack Forest Field Trip

Community in the Heart of Texas

By Sarah Bell, 3rd Year MES Student.

Over this last week I traveled to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas to attend a modeling workshop. The workshop included the theory and use of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) taught by one of the model’s main developers, Dr. Srinivasan.


Texas A&M Campus

Initially I was excited to go to a workshop and receive hands on experience from a world-recognized instructor of the SWAT model. I envisioned myself anxiously answering questions, easily plugging in data for my thesis, all while sitting is a small classroom of equally eager graduate students. Alas, as my departure date approached I started to feel more like a nervous kid on the first day of school. What if I’m not prepared? What if I don’t know the answers? What if my data I brought is all wrong?

Eager to make a good impression, and not to get lost, I arrived early. As the other students started filing in that sense of nervousness grew. Everyone seemed not to be graduate students, but real world working professionals. What did I get myself into!?! But if my experience at Evergreen taught me anything, it’s to get out there and be part of your community, even when you think you’re all alone.

After introductions I was surprised at the diversity of my small SWAT workshop community. We ranged in age and experience, Master’s to Ph.D. students, government to federal employees, and many from abroad including Japan, Columbia, and Peru. Yet we all had the SWAT model in common. Our interest for SWAT model application ranged from quantifying ecosystem restoration, modeling best agricultural practices, tracking point source pollution, modeling climate change impacts of streamflow, and many more.

The range of topics was extremely fascinating, so in true MES tradition I had to arrange an after-hours seminar. It was such a great experience to network and interact with other individuals dedicated to approaching environmental issues with a systems based model. All having such varying backgrounds, I felt that my Evergreen education had truly prepared me to interact with such a diverse group of people, and who knew we would meet in the heart of Texas.

More surprising to me were the vast differences I observed between Texas A&M and Evergreen. Coming from Evergreen, I expect the vast array of recycling options, sustainability infrastructure on campus, and alternative transportation methods. I would go so far to say that the word “compost” is not foreign or scary to us. These were not my observations on or off campus. Recycling paper was not even an option. Rinse a can out to prep it for recycling and you’re now the weird one in the room. These differences were not a reflection of those who inhabited College Station, but more due to the lack of infrastructure and planning. Yet there I was learning a model that was built to predict levels of impairment across landscapes due to land management practices, which includes non-sustainable urban development. The irony of this situation was not lost on me. But models such as SWAT are widely available and more and more user-friendly. It’s these availabilities that give me hope for future sustainability in a multitude of facets, which was demonstrated by the diversity of those in attendance that week.

Texas A&M Logo

Texas A&M Logo

In reflection I think most of us get preoccupied and comfortable with our work at home. We often forget about the  “Big Picture.” In the midst of writing a thesis I have to consider how my work will contribute to the larger scientific community. This concept became clear traveling to the SWAT workshop. Here I was representing my small liberal arts community in the big conservative world of Texas. Yet I found like-minded people passionate about sustainability, restoration, and contributing to their communities. I’m reminded that conversation and interaction is transformative. I don’t have to go into the world and do something innovative to make a difference. I can easily be the first to recycle in a new community, something small that I often take for granted, or run a model to prepare for climate change impacts on water resources. Overall my experience at the SWAT workshop was a success. Not only did I learn the ins and outs of the SWAT model, I was reminded that sharing ideas, finding your network, and moving out your comfort zone can be necessary to contribute to that “Big Picture.”

Winter 2015 Director’s Note

By Kevin Francis, MES Director.

Last week thirty-five students gathered for the first thesis workshop of winter quarter. We began with a presentation by Sandy Yannone, director of Evergreen’s Writing Center, who discussed the process of completing a major writing project. She encouraged students to share their anxieties and challenges, then offered strategies and techniques for addressing them.

As a new director teaching this class for the first time, I was working through my own anxieties. Each student is developing and researching a unique research question, with its own constellation of existing scholarship, methods for data collection and analysis, and practical challenges. At the end of class, each student turned in a prospectus. As I read through this stack over the following week, I was amazed at the range of topics. Consider the research questions of my own thesis students: Can you use remote sensing to locate potential sites of historic logging camps in Capitol Forest? What is the relationship between views of evolution and environmental attitudes among Christian clergy? How do so-called “use it or lose it” water policies effect irrigation practices? What motivates volunteers to participate in citizen science research? What was the environmental impact of the Olympia Brewing Company during its formative years? Of course, this diversity makes for rich conversations. But it also presents a teaching challenge: How do I create assignments and activities that are truly meaningful and useful across such a broad range of topics, data, and methods?

Fortunately, the first class went well. Sandy’s presentation seemed to calm and energize students for the hard work ahead; they asked many follow-up questions. Later they shared their own thesis research in small groups via an “elevator story”; several mentioned the value of feedback from their peers. Afterward, many of them joined first-year students for the weekly “late night seminar” at the Eastside Club Tavern. As I chatted with students over beer, I had a new appreciation for the importance of making thesis work, which at certain times is inevitably and painfully solitary, a communal enterprise. Hopefully, each student will gain perspective and strength by working alongside others in this common journey.

In six months, this cohort will be the 30th class of MES graduates. Last summer a small group of MES alumni, faculty, and students began talking about how to celebrate this anniversary. We wanted a festive day that allowed alumni to reconnect with old friends and build new connections with alumni—and soon-to-be alumni—across the decades. We also wanted to commemorate the legacy of MES graduates who are making valuable contributions on diverse environmental and social issues through a more focused event.

Image of 30th Anniversary LogoAs it turns out, creating a program for the 30th anniversary celebration poses a similar kind of challenge as teaching the thesis workshop. Our “common” history is also many individual stories. Under the general theme of “Telling the MES Story” we hope to capture both unique individual stories and common experiences and themes. Fortunately, Evergreen undergraduates have been working hard during the past year to collect some of these stories. During the past year, Karen Gaul (MES faculty 06/07) has taught two academic programs—Living Well: Anthropology and Sustainability (Summer 2014) and Spaceship Earth: An Owner’s Manual (Fall 2014, Winter 2015) where students interviewed many MES alumni that are documented in audio and video recordings. They transcribed the interviews and created posters for each alumnus. As a whole, their work offers a slice of the experiences of students, the career paths of alumni, and the broader impact of our graduates at the local, regional, national, and international level. As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, these students will share their work. We will also have a panel of MES directors and alumni discuss the major environmental and social challenges that, over the past 30 years, have attracted students to the program and motivated their studies. We will also hear stories that reflect how the experience of being an MES student has changed over the years.

This program is just one event that will take place over the long weekend of activities. We start on Thursday, April 23, with the 25th Rachel Carson Forum, which is organized by current MES students and—I suspect—the traditional “late night seminar.” Friday evening is the Olympia Arts Walk and the Luminary Procession. Between the on-campus and off-campus events on Saturday is the 21st Procession of the Species. This annual event, developed by Eli Sterling (MES 1991), weaves together art, conservation, and community. You should not miss this chance to watch towering giraffes, dancing mandrills, floating jellyfish, and many more species parade through downtown Olympia.

Since I began teaching in the MES program, I’ve been impressed by the number of alumni who are doing important work on environmental and social issues in our state. Most express deep appreciation for their MES education and many stay involved by sponsoring internships and mentoring recent graduates. We hope you’ll join us in April to celebrate this collective accomplishment.

My Winter Break European Vacation

By Anna Rhoads, 1st Year MES Student.
Over my winter break, I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe with my older brother to celebrate the holidays. While I have traveled extensively throughout the USA and parts of Mexico, I have never left North America, so I was nervous but excited to travel abroad. We traveled to Vienna, Budapest, and Barcelona, each destination culturally and geographically unique. As an MES student, I am always interested in learning about sustainability and how other countries are implementing sustainable practices.  Here are some observations from an American perspective of how the European cities I visited embrace sustainability!

Market in Hungary

#1 Reuse to reduce.
A trip to Vienna, Austria during Christmas would not be complete without visiting one of the several Christkindlmarkt (Christmas markets)! Vendors at the markets sell Christmas themed trinkets, ornaments, and Viennese comfort food. We noshed on potatoes, dumplings, waffles, goulash, and drank the popular Glühwein  (warm spiced red wine). Most vendors would use reusable dishware and cups to serve their product. We had to pay an initial deposit to use the dishware, but received our deposit back once we were finished with our meal. The deposit system may have been one method that the Christmas markets kept post-consumer food waste low. We also noticed the deposit system at the Nagycsarnok (Great Hall Market) in Budapest, Hungary.
In addition, unlike the Pacific Northwest, where you can get a to-go cup of coffee from almost any business that has running water, there are few opportunities in Europe to get your coffee fix to-go in a paper cup. Only a few coffee shops advertised take-away coffee, and you hardly saw anyone running around with a paper to-go coffee cup in hand like you may in the US.  The two places we saw where you can get coffee to-go in Europe is from Starbucks or from a McCafe (yes, Starbucks and McDonalds are everywhere…). Europeans like to enjoy their caffeinated beverage of choice in a ceramic cup while sitting down and reading the newspaper or catching up with friends.

Coffee and Gluten-free cake

#2 Less trash pollution.
While this could be different in the less tourist friendly parts of the cities we visited, we did not see much litter. However, we did see people hired by the city to clean up the streets, subways, and parks. This may be a response to the European Union’s recent initiatives to tackle marine litter, but I cannot be certain. I am also not sure how each of these cities processed the trash they picked up (do they sort collected litter for recyclables? Or does it go straight to the landfill or incinerator?) Vienna and Barcelona also had several recycling and trash receptacles in popular tourist areas and subways.
#3 Public transportation galore.
Each city we went to had terrific metro systems and bicycle infrastructure. Barcelona had bicycle rental stations throughout the city, which many locals and tourists take advantage of. Vienna had orderly bike lanes (and people would glare furiously at you if you were to walk in them by mistake, my apologies Vienna!)  In Budapest, while there were few bicycles lanes, it appeared that millennials strongly embrace a bicycle culture, riding beautiful road bikes in 20 degree Fahrenheit weather.


We took advantage of the metro (subway/bus) systems in each city. Barcelona and Vienna were expensive to ride (14 Euro, or 17 USD,  for three days), however most employers and universities in the city will pay for their employees or students’ passes. Budapest was quite affordable (1500 Forint, or 5 USD for three days). It was a breeze to get from one location to the next on the metro. We took a long distance train from Vienna to Budapest, which was very affordable and only took two hours of our time. Locals we talked to believe owning a car in Europe is pointless unless you live in the countryside or need a car for work purposes.  

Anna in Barcelona

I like to think that the US will invest in efficient public transportation, shift from a throwaway culture to a reusable one, and have litter-free cities. Luckily, I”m in a graduate program at The Evergreen State College that aims to graduate leaders who may put these practices into place one day.

The Benefits of Presenting and Volunteering at a Professional Conference

By Sasha Porter, 3rd Year MES Student. SER

Earlier this quarter, I traveled to central Oregon and presented my thesis research at the interdisciplinary and exceptionally welcoming Society for Ecological Restoration Regional (Northwest/Great Basin) Conference in Redmond. The conference was attended by MES faculty (Dr. Sarah Hamman) and alumni (Dennis Aubrey and others), but I was surprised to be the only current Evergreen student there. Other attendees included professionals from a wide variety of governmental organizations (Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, DNR, BLM, NRCC), tribes, universities, private firms, and nonprofits (CNLM, IAE) who presented research within the conference theme of “Collaborative Conservation: From Community Efforts to Landscape Scales.”

Organizers from SER-NW went out of their way to make the conference accessible to students, offering free registration to the five-day conference in exchange for nine hours of volunteer work, which for me involved assisting session moderators by loading each speaker’s PowerPoint presentation, and then putting it into “slide-mode” for fluidity as they were being introduced. Beyond the free registration the society gave me a student travel scholarship that, combined with the Evergreen Student Travel Award, provided enough assistance to cover my gas, food, and lodging. They also organized a “Student Mentoring Session” on the last day of the conference where I was able to engage in discussion directly with professionals who had specifically volunteered to advise students on what their career paths had been, what they thought would be important in the future, and what it had been like day-to-day, working in evolving fields with a variety of employers.

These folks are eager to mentor students and suggested that I start a SER-NW chapter at Evergreen. One theme of the conference that was repeatedly mentioned by plenary speakers (and many presenters) was the need not only for biologists and ecologists, but social scientists and policy specialists, to become involved in both the Society and the projects of its members. There were many presentations on how to build collaborations, and a general agreement that projects were only successful when they met the needs of the community, creating social as well as ecological benefits. Joining SER-NW costs only $5 for student membership, and provides access to funding and hundreds of members with successful careers throughout our region working on issues that include: species conservation, environmental education, collaboration, building and assessment, appropriate native seed production, habitat restoration (forest, prairie, sage steppe, riparian, wetland, stream, soil, wildlife), and all of the information that they want to pass on, including great thesis topics.

I presented my own research on Thursday morning at 8:30 am to a surprisingly full room. The audience was very supportive, asked great questions, and many people came up to me afterward to discuss my research, how it could apply to their current projects, and to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. I was handed business cards and later received e-mails with project details and requests for advice. Restoration ecology is a fairly new field, and full of open-minded people who understand the value of research, get excited by ideas, and are driven by ethics. Anyone interested in helping to start a SER-NW student chapter at Evergreen should get in touch with me: sashaporter@gmail.com.

Fall quarter musings: CORE Pack Forest Field Trip

By Sarah Keon, 1st Year MES Student.

I was able to enjoy a breath of fresh crisp air at Pack Forest and an optional trip to Mt. Rainier back in October (And yes of course I went! Why would I miss out on its majestic beauty?) Through gCore we went on an educational, as well as fun-filled field trip to Pack Forest.
MES Hike

Author Sarah Keon (center, in orange jacket) and classmates at Mt. Rainier.

Having read the Hidden Forest by Jon Luomo and an article of a research that included Pack Forest as a site for study, I was excited to apply what I learned to the site since I had a deeper perception of what the forest entailed. Pack Forest consists of areas reserved for harvest, for experiments, and for preservation. Although I have mixed opinions about their harvesting practices and did not really like the areas that were cut/ used for harvest, I really enjoyed seeing the preserved old growth forests which contained conifers that were a couple of hundred years old. I really grew to appreciate old growth forests even with all its decay and its lack of appeal to some people. In my eyes old growth forests are full of life and beautiful.

Photo taken by 1st Year Student Rhianna Hruska.

Another part about field trips that we absolutely can’t forget is the social intermingling that inevitably happens with your peers. I was able to know more about my cohort than I ever could sitting at a lecture or even during our seminar discussions. Sometimes it involved spilling out our whole life story while we rode along over to our various sites. Other times we would discuss class stuff over meals. And another we were able to play Apples to Apples and the Sticky Head Game late into the night.
Mount RainierAlthough I was tired from having stayed up so late playing games, I was still stoked to go to Mt. Rainier the next day. Despite a bit of rain drizzle the weather was pretty good considering Washington’s typically wet fall-winter weather. I was so glad I went. I was also grateful for having been given the opportunity to go to Mt. Rainer outside of curriculum. It was my first time there and it was absolutely amazing. Tiring as it may have been, I really enjoyed the entire trip and look forward to future field trips in other classes. (Sleep was amazing that night. I never woke up so refreshed.)

A Journey to the Crossroads

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

I am traveling down a beaten path, my feet stirring up little clouds of dust with each passing step. The sun is shining overhead and the path stretches before me. A steady trampling of feet over many years has widened it so that three or four can comfortably walk abreast. I imagine the footprints of all those who have come before, and thank them for their courage and their guidance. Somewhere among the many, are the footprints of Sara Ann Bilezikian. Once, she was a student at Evergreen. My own enrollment at Evergreen is in part due to her legacy. A familiar voice calls my name and wakes me from my daydream. Today, I am in the good company of many of my classmates. Where are we going, you ask? We’re on a journey to the crossroads of social justice and environmental responsibility.

Dirt Road through Tabuga, Ecuador

Dirt road through Tabuga, Ecuador

Okay, so maybe this metaphor is a poor fit for what it’s really like. Maybe the trail should be riddled with booby traps and sneaky diversions, false short cuts, and shady street vendors. Maybe it should be filled with throngs of people going the other way. There are lots of things it could be, but my idyllic image is inspired by a real dirt road and my experience with it.

The little town of Tabuga, Ecuador is home to some 60 families; a mere speck on the map. I was there because the area houses some of the last bits of tropical deciduous forest and I wanted to learn how to keep it from being replaced by shrimp farms, bananas, or pastures. This particular forest habitat is a critical link between wet forests to the north and very dry forests to the south, and as such offers refuge to species from both. I was there to help the animals—to protect them from the people. Or so I thought, anyways.

Walking on the dirt road through Tabuga changed my mind, though. It showed me that animals were not the only ones suffering from environmental degradation. Sure, I had heard about social injustice before, but apparently I needed a good slap in the face to really open my eyes. The take home lesson was that preaching environmental responsibility cannot be expected to work if we ignore the underlying issues of social injustice. When the time came for goodbyes, I neatly tucked my new resolve into my hiking pack and boarded the plane home.

A couple years have passed now and admittedly I haven’t solved any of the world’s eco-social issues. Time for lesson number two: it isn’t something one person can do alone. Recognizing that I need and want to be part of a team, I turned to the Master of Environmental Studies degree at The Evergreen State College. Being a Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellow has not only allowed me to pursue my passions, but has given me a healthy dose of support and encouragement to travel the beaten path. Sort of like a protein bar that I can nibble on in times of need. (Editor’s note: Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellows receive a scholarship equal to approximately two years of MES tuition)

Well team, it’s a long journey to the crossroads, but the sun is shining overhead and we’re in good company.

Danae PreslerYour traveling companion,

Danae Presler

AASHE 2014 Conference and Bike Ride

By Ryan Hobbs, 1st Year MES Student.

As I watched the sun’s light begin to peak above the trees surrounding Chambers Lake, my mind was riddled with anxiety. On my lap sat the checklist for the two-day bike journey down to Portland. I had triple-checked my bags the night before and as dawn began to break, I was doing it again to alleviate my anxiousness. Another fear of mine: being at the wrong spot. Surely I was at the right location, we agreed to meet at 7:00 a.m. at the Chambers Lake trail head yet I was the only one there. Perhaps I was at the wrong site? Nope. Soon enough the bodies began to trickle in, all nine of them – some by bike, some in vehicles. The ten of us were variously assembling our gear and making last-minute adjustments before heading out on the first leg of our ride to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference. After some quick gear checks and lots of pictures eight of us mounted our trusty two-wheeled steeds and began down the trail. Two more in a support vehicle headed out down the road.

Author Ryan Hobbs and Assistant Director Gail Wootan

Author Ryan Hobbs and Assistant Director Gail Wootan

The fog was ever present and the leaves carpeted the pavement. I figured a fall was inevitable on the slippery trail but I decided to save the wipe out for much later. Fast forward 69-miles down trails, city streets, two-lane highways through the back country, a few challenging hills, with the same song on repeat in my mind (King Crimson’s Starless), we arrived at the Toutle River Resort in Castle Rock, Washington. The weather had cooperated nearly the entire day and the rain didn’t join us until that night. Damage report for the group: a bent fender and several flats, nothing too bad. We celebrated with pizza and sleep, though three of us couldn’t resist soaking our bones in the hot tub. Rain that had visited us towards the end of the ride continued on through the night and we planned on a wet second day.

A most pleasant scent was creeping up the stairs the following morning and I woke up to find a delicious homemade quiche waiting for me. A member of our support team was up early that morning making sure we had a hearty meal to provide us the energy we would need on the final 65-miles of our trip. We set off with the clouds breaking way to make room for the sun. This day would find us alongside busy highways and crossing the Lewis and Clark bridge into Oregon. After about 10-minutes of riding in Oregon the rain started. It did not prove to be a deterrent and after about 30-miles of riding we found ourselves eating lunch in the living room of the MES Assistant Director’s parent’s house (she was riding down with us). As I was finishing up lunch and almost passing out on the floor, I realized the weather was starting to rear an ugly face. Wind gusts and sideways rain started to pummel the pavement. Perfect time to head back out.

The next stop was about 12 miles down the road, a Fred Meyer where we could reconvene before the final 18 miles to Portland. What should have taken about an hour at most took almost two. The wind gusts were reportedly hitting 45 miles per hour and based on the amount of leaves hitting my face, the work it took to ride downhill, and the amount of downed branches, I’d say the reports were accurate. After some discussion and repairs, three staff decided to continue on while the students and a staff member taxied the remaining riders into Portland. What happened to two of the remaining three riders on the way to Portland was something out of a bike horror movie. One rider’s derailleur exploded on the side of the rode and he hitchhiked into town. Another rider blew an inner tube five miles out of Portland and was also able to snag a ride in. Finally, one staff member from Evergreen was able to succeed in completing the ride to Portland. Damage report from the second day was a gruesome amount of flats, broken accessories and gears, and a wicked storm that ended our ride 18-miles early.

YouTube Preview Image

Finally in Portland, we explored the town before heading to hear the keynote speaker, Annie Leonard, Sunday evening. I was familiar enough with Portland to not feel the need to explore too much. Besides, there was a midterm looming over our heads when we returned to school later in the week so much studying was required. Monday morning came and we headed out to the conference. The AASHE phone app was a life saver as the presentation offerings were baffling in quantity. I sat in on a diverse range of topics. It was interesting to see how other schools were utilizing learning outcomes and cross disciplinary approaches to teach sustainability concepts, how others were banning water bottles (presented by one of the riders), and ways in which GIS could be used to manage sustainability in higher education, though this actually turned out to be more of a recruiting seminar for a Master’s in GIS. The last presentation of the day stood out to me to be the most interesting. It was an avant-garde music & video performance called The Lyrebird, which sought to challenge listeners to think about the confrontations of humans and the natural world. I was reminded of other avant-garde, politically driven music by bands like Henry Cow and Art Bears. Tuesday I caught several more sessions including a documentary and discussion on urban farming, indigenous practices for sustainability, and a case I hope to tackle at Evergreen, mitigating bird strikes on campus.


AASHE 2014 in Portland, OR

Wednesday morning had arrived which meant an early morning bike ride to the train station, which was about six miles away. It was the last I’d be riding in Portland and this is when I finally got up close and personal with the road as I was cut off about half a mile from the station and ended up biting it (not literally though close). Luckily it was a controlled fall and my bike only suffered minor scratches, far from the dilemmas faced by other riders (loads of flats, broken bikes, bent fenders, and the target of bird droppings). The entire train ride home I reflected on the challenges we faced on our ride, how we worked together for a common goal, and pushed each other to succeed. I barely knew any of these people before going on the ride but I have now forged some strong connections and what I witnessed at AASHE was quite similar. Here were thousands of people with an array of disciplines working together and connecting for a common goal. To see this event taking place and knowing that so much energy and passion is being put in to help guide the futures is very promising. I was reminded of a closing message from an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in which he states how we are at a critical branching point in human history. Sagan states that we hold the power to create an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of the planet if only we can use “…our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth…” We are still hanging from this branching point and AASHE is a hopeful sign that we are using our compassion, intelligence, technology, and wealth to create the path of meaningfulness and abundance for us all to follow.

Climate Change and Sustainability in the Fiji Islands

By Daron Williams, 1st Year MES Student.

Bula! Hello!

I was lucky enough to spend most of August in the Fiji Islands along with my classmates and our professor Brittany who is an MES Alum. We were there as part of the Climate Change and Sustainability class offered through the MES program. When I mention the Fiji Islands to people here in the States they immediately think about a tropical paradise with coconuts and beautiful reefs. The Fiji Islands are far more complex with beauty that leaves you breathless and an ugliness that you wish would never blemish that beauty. I got to explore coral reefs, swim with sharks, cliff dive in sea caves and visit outstanding areas of natural beauty. I also met amazing and wonderful people that have changed me and will always be a part of me. But I also witnessed the environmental damage done to the islands by people who are struggling to survive and by kaivalagis (foreigners) whose greed blinds them to the damage they are doing.

FijiWhen I arrived in Fiji I was struck by the beauty of the islands but I noticed that there was a haze over them. That day I explored the reefs around Bounty Island and was amazed by what I saw. After a wonderful day of exploring the reefs I was enjoying the evening with my classmates and we noticed a strange orange glow coming from Viti Levu (the mainland). It was a fire burning the sugarcane slash on a farm field. We would later see these fires up close burning on the roadside around the city of Nadi. I learned that the western part of Viti Levu is known as the “burning west.” Every year during the dry season the sugarcane crops are burned. This leaves the area covered in a brown haze that would be similar to anyone who has lived through the forest fire season of the Western United States. The sugarcane industry is a leftover of the colonial days, and is continuing to damage the islands. The runoff from these fields are choking the reefs, rivers, and destroying the livelihoods of the people of Fiji. But despite its damage the sugarcane industry is necessary for the livelihoods of many of the people of Fiji.

The part of the trip that stood out the most to my classmates and I was the time we spent on the Island of Vorovoro off the coast of Mali and Vanua Levu. The people of Vorovoro showed us their lives and their islands. We lived with them in their village and got to experience their way of life. We learned how to harvest and process coconuts and got to explore their Island and their reefs. We also learned their traditions and by honoring those traditions we became a part of their village. I remember playing soccer with the kids and sitting on the kava mat with the chief and the other members of the village. The necklace that I often wear is from Vorovoro. I will never forget Vorovoro and the people who live there who touched my life and the lives of my classmates.


Daron Williams (right) with classmates.

As part of the class I took on a research project of my own design. I decided to look into how various levels of community participation impacts relocation efforts caused by climate change. Living in the U.S., it can be easy to forget the damage already being done by climate change to people around the world. I got to meet with and interview the Turaga Nikoro (Village Head Man) of the village of Vunidogoloa. He told me a story about the people of the village trying to escape the rising water in the middle of night during a storm. Luckily for the people of Vunidogoloa they were successfully relocated to a new site but many other villages across the world are facing the same threat and they might not be so lucky. Too many kaivalagis continue to ignore the damage our activities are causing to vulnerable peoples around the world.

My time in Fiji is something that I will never forget. Each of our internal worldviews is shaped by the experiences we gain as we travel through our lives. This model of the world is our guide as we make decisions and make our choices. I’m glad that I will have the people of Fiji as my guides as I continue my journey through life. Let us all remember that our choices have global impacts and let us all remember that our worldviews are limited by the scope of our own experiences.

Fiji Class

Evergreen students in Fiji.

Letter from the Director, Fall 2014

By Kevin Francis, Graduate Program on the Environment Director.


Kevin Francis, MES 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 (francisk@evergreen.edu)

New Year for Evergreen MES

By Rhianna Hruska, 1st year MES Student and Communications Assistant.

Welcome to the 2014-2015 school year!  It’s been a busy time for the MES program, with orientation and the first week of classes off to a great start.

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2014 MES 1st Year Student Orientation

The program welcomes several professors to this year’s set of faculty.  Peter Dorman returns to the program from the undergraduate curriculum this year. He brings his expertise in economics and political economy.  He is currently teaching Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Environment for this Fall Quarter.  Kathleen Saul is an alumna of the MES program at Evergreen who taught for one year a few years ago.  She focuses on energy resources and policy, particularly within the nuclear power industry.  Dina Roberts taught part-time in the program last year, and this year teaches full-time. She is a conservation biologist with a background in ornithology.  She teaches Case Studies and Thesis Design with Kathleen Saul.  Shangrila Wynn delves into political ecology and climate justice.  She is currently teaching gCORE, the first year MES student core class.

The department has a couple of new student staff as well.  Anna Rhoads is the current Student Assistant for the MES office.  Stop by, say “hi,” and ask any questions you may have about the program.  She’s very friendly!

I’m the new Communications Assistant for the MES department.  I’ll be posting on this blog, twitter, Facebook, and editing the quarterly newsletters.  I’m always looking for fellow students who would like to share their experiences in the program or any photographs during their time at Evergreen.  Feel free to contact me anytime at hruskar@evergreen.edu or check out my bio.

MESA (Master of Environmental Studies Association) had its first meeting last Thursday.  The group aims to bring MES students together and plan social events so we can connect with our peers outside of class.  Last year’s coordinators explained MESA’s hopes and dreams for this year.  The biggest event to plan is the 2015 Rachel Carson Forum in April 2015, and ideas are being considered for what theme should be chosen. Look for future meetings, Thursdays at 5PM in the graduate lounge (Lab I, 3rd Floor, Room 3023).

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1st MESA Meeting of the 2014-15 School Year

I look forward to everything this year has to offer!