By Martha Henderson, Director of the Graduate Program on the Environment.
“Welcome to the Graduate Program on the Environment!” This statement went a long way in mid-September as faculty members, staff and second year students welcomed 40 new students in the first year cohort at Orientation. The new class is one of the largest and most diverse in many years. It was a thrill to see so many new faces, learn their names, hear their stories, and imagine their possibilities. Representatives of the second year cohort also participated and set a high standard of intellectual achievement and professional commitment to completion of the Master of Environmental Studies degree. Thanks to Gail Wootan, Assistant Director, and Jennifer Runyan, Recruitment Assistant, for their organization of Orientation.
Also participating in Orientation was adjunct faculty. These faculty members, Jean MacGregor, Alan Hardcastle, Paul Pickett, Richard Bigley, Greg Stewart, Sarah Hamman, and Tim Quinn, brought descriptions of their classes to the new students. The graduate program is very fortunate to have their expertise and commitment to working with students. These faculty enable students to acquire expertise in content areas including environmental education, energy, climate change, forest management, biological conservation, and geographic information systems. Paul Pickett captured the value of an MES degree in his eloquent statement about the challenges ahead due to climate change. The consequences of climate change are going to heavily impact environmental conditions and require major readjustments in society. Most importantly, Paul emphasized the role of MES in creating opportunities for social change and adaptation as these environmental issues become apparent.
A recurring event in Orientation is a seminar on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Carson has a real presence in MES as our matron saint. We honor her each year with the Rachel Carson Forum. Reading Silent Spring has become a valuable experience for new students, most of whom have not read this classic in environmental history. The seminar also introduces new students to participatory learning from a student perspective. All of our classes include seminars.
Orientation also introduced new students to the core faculty members Kevin Francis, Carri LeRoy, Erin (Ellis) Martin, Dina Roberts and Ted Whitesell. Each of these faculty members returned to campus after a summer of interesting work in environmental studies. Erin Martin collaborated with students in studying carbon sequestering in the Queets River. Carri LeRoy continued her leadership role in the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Dina Roberts continued her work in ecosystem connectivity across Canada. Ted Whitesell taught a summer class on environmental studies.
I was fortunate to provide leadership on a class field trip to an international sustainability conference in Havana, Cuba. Ten students, Assistant Director Gail Wootan, and I traveled via Mexico to attend the conference. The conference included presentations on research by representatives from Central and South American countries plus a number of African countries. We also visited sites surrounding Havana that have developed agricultural and ecological programs from a sustainable perspective. We were also introduced to neighborhood groups and local markets where we learned more about life in Havana. We all had amazing adventures and met many wonderful people. The competition to pick a favorite is difficult but for me, dancing to a great band playing music from my college days on top of a renovated steam boiler tank above the skyline of Havana was a lifetime thrill. Of course the conference had inspiring moments as well.
It’s an exciting new year in MES. Gail Wootan reports that inquiries and early applications for next year are stronger than ever. Jennifer continues to publish weekly lists of internships and jobs for students. Classes are fully enrolled. The second year students are working on research designs for thesis projects, many already at work gathering original field data or writing literature reviews. With thesis presentations in December, nearly all of last year’s thesis students will have graduated. We are very thankful for student success and faculty commitment to the program. The quarters ahead look promising!