I'm just finishing up week two of teaching NR103 - Ecology, Ecosystems, and the Environment - to about 120 students. It's basically a general ecology course that's not too different from a course I've been teaching since 2001. Every time I've taught the course, I've started the class with a couple of examples of how ecologists think and do ecology. And I've also talked with the students about the eminent ecologist Robert MacArthur on the very first day of class (and he pops up throughout the class, for a variety of reasons).
For those of you who don't know Robert MacArthur, he was born in Toronto, but moved to Marlboro to go to college soon after his father was hired as the first scientist on the faculty there. MacArthur went on to get a PhD at Yale, focusing mostly on how warblers divide up space and resources, and the field work was done in forests near the family cabin in southern Vermont. After getting his PhD, MacArthur became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and then moved on to Princeton.
But for the rest of his life, he kept a cabin in southern Vermont, and would go every chance he got. And some of the most influential work in the history of ecology was conceived and written at that cabin in southern Vermont. The Theory of Island Biogeography with EO Wilson was written there, for example. MacArthur died young (at age 42) of renal cancer, and on his deathbed (literally) he wrote an influential book called Geographical Ecology. Early in the book, MacArthur wrote “To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts. . . . Doing science is not such a barrier to feeling or such a dehumanizing influence as is often made out. It does not take the beauty from nature." I love that quote, teach by it, and live by it.
But the real reason I introduce the students to MacArthur is that he was the consummate birder and figured out how to do it for a career. But he also knew that to make lasting contributions in his field, he had to couple that passion for birds with a quantitative toolkit. And that's what I'm trying to accomplish in NR103 - tapping into the passion our students have (or give them something to be passionate about) while providing them with a set of quantitative tools. It's especially rewarding to do that, with MacArthur as an inspiration, in Vermont.
Enjoy the weekend -
It's now "spring" semester here at the University of Vermont. To be honest, after some of the cold temperatures we experienced a couple of weeks ago, I'm happy with this balmy 27 degrees day.
My family and I spent most of winter break in Patagonia where we have a lot of good friends and a couple of research projects. Over the past ten years or so, I have tried to more effectively mix family, research, friends, and beautiful places, and this trip might have been the best example of that so far.
But while we were away from the University of Vermont and ENVS, lots of things continued to happen. The most exciting thing to me was the announcement of the new Gund Institute for Environment Fellows. Of the 14 new fellows, three came from Environmental Studies - Rachelle Gould, Bindu Panikkar, and me (you can see the full list here). My quick glance of the list of recipients indicates that no other department or program on campus had as many new affiliates named. Well done, especially for a relatively small faculty!
Similarly, The Gund Institute also announced recipients of the Catalyst Awards to establish new research projects (the full list is here). Again, our stellar faculty in ENVS were big winners.
Brendan Fisher, Rachelle Gould, Cheri Morse (Geography; ENVS '89), Bev Wemple (Geography), Aimee Classen (RSENR), and I got an award to work on how global change affects biodiversity, ecosystems, and livelihoods in mountains around the world.
Cecilia Danks and colleagues received an award to study biogas (e.g., CO2, methane) dynamics.
Jon Erickson and colleagues received funds to host an international symposium to develop a new research agenda for ecological economics.
Adrian Ivakhiv and Luis Vivanco (Anthropology) received funds to host an international symposium on ‘artscience’ and ‘eco-humanities.'
These awards, and so many other things, demonstrate what incredible scholars we have in Our Environmental Program. The collaborative grants we've received also demonstrate how we make connections across campus, and in fact, across the world, in our research and scholarship. And finally, these accomplishments highlight the truly interdisciplinary nature of our work and will undoubtedly enhance our teaching.
I hope you are all as proud of these faculty as I am, and as honored to be a part of such an incredible group of scholars.
Happy Friday -
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.