By Kevin Francis, MES Director.
Evergreen, like many creatures this time of year, is in the midst of metamorphosis. This month George Bridges, who started work in October, was inaugurated as the sixth President of Evergreen. The celebration, of course, had an Evergreen twist. Instead of a formal inaugural ball, we held a Day of Service involving projects related to Earth Day, including a successful trail construction project at Randall Preserve sponsored by MES and Capitol Land Trust and superbly organized by MES student Daron Williams. Maia Bellon, Director of the Washington State Department, was one of several distinguished alumni who shared their inspiring stories.
In the short time our new President has been at work, I have been impressed with his ability to embrace our quirky institution’s complexities. George did a lot of hard listening and intense reflecting during his first 100 days in office that he shared with the community.
His talk affirmed Evergreen’s core values, recognized recent accomplishments, and articulated key challenges that we face as an institution. He also challenged us—faculty especially—to participate in this reflection and move toward action. Notably, the talk viewed Evergreen through four lenses that sometimes provide conflicting views of the college. After hearing this talk, I was confident he “got” Evergreen.
This month we also learned that faculty Ken Tabbutt will be stepping up (again) to serve as Interim Provost. The current Provost, Michael Zimmerman, has been a strong supporter of our program. An ecologist with diverse interests, he immediately understood MES and the value of a graduate environmental studies degree, both for students and for the college. We collaborated on a plan to hire three permanent faculty dedicated to MES, enabling us to build an excellent cohort of faculty dedicated to interdisciplinary research and problem solving in the environmental field. We are thrilled to have Erin Martin, whose research investigates freshwater ecology and its implications for the global carbon cycle, and John Withey, whose research addresses diverse aspects of biodiversity and landscape ecology. As a team, they provide complementary expertise for core programs, electives, and thesis work. Next year, we plan to hire a social scientist to address student interests in environmental economics and policy.
In more operational terms, Michael has consistently respected the integrity and judgment of MES faculty and staff while providing sound counsel when I sought it out. As a new administrator in charge of revising policies and making judgment calls, Michael helped me think carefully about the meaning of consistency. I wish Michael the best in his next career move and look forward to working with Ken Tabbutt, a geologist and former MES faculty member.
MES is also in transition. Three faculty who have taught full-time in MES are leaving the program—Peter Dorman and Shangrila Wynn will be entering the undergraduate curriculum, and Dina Roberts will be starting her “dream job” at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she will teach field ecology.
Three faculty will join the program this fall. Ted Whitesell, an MES veteran and former director, will bring expertise in political ecology and sustainability to our ranks. Miranda Mellis, a writer with strong interest in environmental humanities, will help us strengthen our efforts to teach environmental rhetoric and communication, important aspects of advocacy and policy making. With the widespread call for rethinking our narratives on environmental issues, especially around climate change, I think Miranda will provide students—and faculty—with new tools to imagine and persuade others about environmental progress. Finally, I look forward to welcoming John Withey to both Evergreen and MES. He grew up in Washington and has broad knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecosystems. He also has specific interests in ornithology, landscape ecology, and urban ecology that will support the interest of many thesis students.
We also finished reviewing applications for the Fall 2016 cohort. We had more than 100 applications—our largest pool, by far, in recent years—and we anticipate welcoming an impressive group of students to campus this fall. Our Assistant Director, Gail Wootan, is the person who is most responsible for successfully reaching out to potential students around the state and beyond. One of her best ideas was to involve students in each step of the process. Since most of them are graduating and moving on to new endeavors, I want to conclude by congratulating and thanking Anna Rhoads (Recruitment Assistant), Ryan Hobbs (Communications Assistant), and Joshua Christy, Danae Presler, and Yonit Yogev (MES Ambassadors) for all of their hard work—and to remind new students that announcements for these positions are coming soon to an inbox near you!