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January 5, 2014

Featured Faculty: Marsha Weisiger

“History is often the story of unintended consequences. It’s the story of generally well-meaning people—just like ourselves—who were simply trying to make a living or doing their best to manage the environment, but unwittingly inflicted damage. That should be sobering.”

Marsha web

Marsha Weisiger, who came to the University of Oregon in 2010 as the Julie and Rocky Dixon Chair of U.S. Western History, is dedicated to examining these stories. For over a year she has been researching a project on the environmental history of eight “hybrid” rivers (that is, dammed waterways that are “simultaneously natural and artificial”) throughout the American West. She is interested in the multiple meanings of “wild” in American culture, and particularly in the unintended consequences of a word that goes unexamined. Here, history informs our ideas about the present: Weisiger notes that today, as in the past, “even in the most constructed environments, an autonomous ‘wild nature’ asserts itself, while those places we imagine as wild are often less so than they seem.”

Nevertheless, she remains fundamentally optimistic about our ability to reframe our ideas and our interactions with the environment. History, she believes, demonstrates that activist groups can make change when they dedicate themselves to sound communication, and that “we all need to learn to write clearly, vividly, and compellingly if we want to promote a progressive environmental ethic.”

Weisiger’s teaching therefore puts a strong focus on writing. In addition to her courses in world environmental history, borderland and Native American history, she also teaches seminars specifically oriented toward the craft of writing about history. As with activism and communication, she believes that historical understanding spreads because of good writing.

sheepOf note among her own publications is Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country, a history of livestock grazing, cultural identity, gender, and environmental justice on the Navajo Reservation. Her process depended on historical research and the craft of writing, but also on a host of interdisciplinary endeavors which seem to follow environmental studies—Weisiger notes that “I drew on archaeological and ethnographic studies, oral traditions, and range ecology, as well as archival materials and field visits with scientists. I even chartered my own aerial survey of the Navajo reservation to get a landscape perspective.”

At the time this landscape was relatively near her professorship at New Mexico State University, but today Weisiger is delighted to call Eugene home. “During my graduate training, I dreamed of landing a job teaching U.S. western history at UO, but I never thought that dream could come true. Academics don’t generally get to choose where they live. When at last the opportunity arose, it was in large part the UO’s strong program in environmental studies that drew me here, along with the environmental ethos that pervades the university and the Willamette Valley.”

We are glad to have her! To learn more about Dr. Weisiger, please visit her website here.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 16, 2013

Featured Alumna: Sarah Jaquette Ray


“I feel that teaching is the activist arm of my work. I am not an activist in the sense of social movement protest, but my research is always focused on the question of social justice.” A 2009 graduate of the University of Oregon’s doctoral program in Environmental Sciences, Studies and Policy, Sarah Jaquette Ray is enacting such activism this fall as she joins Humboldt State University’s faculty as Program Leader of their new Environmental Studies program.

Ray’s interests include environmental justice, cultural studies, critical human geography, disability studies, and issues of power, identity, and discourses ofnature. As she engages with each, she is passionate about putting the topics in conversation with each other: “I think it’s valuable to have a variety of activisms dealing with environmental issues,” she explains. “Some people may wonder why we need to be thinking about issues of identity, discourse, and social justice when the planet is at stake, and I hear that critique often.  But I think this rhetoric of urgency is problematic, and I genuinely believe that we’re not going to save that planet unless we do so in ways that incorporate—as central to, not just as a byproduct of—concerns of social justice.”

9780816511884_p0_v1_s260x420Such concerns were central to her recent book The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture, which examines modern American environmentalism for ways in which certain discourses of the body within activist culture can create social injustice. Furthermore, even in the classroom Ray is adamant that “issues of power, identity, and environmental rhetoric are central to whether or not students’ ideals will manifest and spread.”

For Ray, this is a key consideration. Her position with Humboldt’s Environmental Studies program requires heavy investment in advising, and she values the responsibility: “I see myself as a bridge between students and their careers in environmental fields, and that feels very gratifying. There is ample evidence that suggests if students follow their passions and get good advising about how to articulate their environmental studies skills, they will find work in a field that they are passionate about.” She believes that her role, even as an advisor, helps spread activism by fostering its growth and expression within her students.

Her role as bridge-builder extends to work within academia as well, particularly given her new position, in that she believes Environmental Studies depends on robust communication between departments. “There is a strong tradition of environmental science and resource management at HSU, but very little has been done to bridge that work with the work in the humanities and arts.” In this sense, she believes that her time at the University of Oregon prepared her well. “The [UO] program did a good job at promoting co-teaching and administering interdisciplinary structures despite being at a large institution.  The sense of community among staff, faculty, and students was very strong,”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

Featured Student: Collin Eaton

Collin Eaton has spent a lot of time thinking about houses. Particularly those built with traditional techniques: he has worked to restore historic adobe in San Francisco and to build adobe in Ecuador, and even when he looks back on early experience helping his father, who is also a builder, Collin remembers “it was often my responsibility to pick up trash on the job site, and as a result I also became suspicious from an early age of how much waste is generated by modern building systems.” Could traditional systems, he wondered, be a viable alternative?

In 2009 he moved to Guatemala and spent several years with Habitat for Humanity and FINCA, a microfinance foundation, seeking housing finance solutions for Guatemalans living in poverty. Such organizations typically fund structures built with cement blocks and steel reinforcement, and Collin became increasingly concerned over the fact that since such materials are tied to the global commodities market, prices have risen to the point where “organizations like Habitat are finding that the market they’re serving is not


their target market.” Again, he began to think about traditional systems like adobe, and whether they might offer a desirable alternative: “I was wondering what’s happening to the people who can’t afford those [concrete] systems, and if there’s a way to find a more affordable system for them to access. Since energy and cost are related that would create housing with the added benefit of lower environmental impact.”

In many ways, it was this question that propelled him to Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. Collin was looking for a program that would provide him the skills to more deliberately address building systems challenges, while also supporting his strong interest in an existing project. “One of the things that appealed to me about this program,” Collin explains, “was the flexible course plan, and that it seemed like there was the ability to focus on project.” As a current second-year student, Collin says that he’s pleased with how this balanced has worked for him.

He has also found that the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program has shifted his focus, from “this narrow view of wanting to do embodied energy and the life cycle assessment approach,” to one that incorporates sociological methods to help investigate why certain systems may or may not be utilized. “I’m equally invested in the perception side,” he expands. “In the end, you can show quantitatively that there will be lower environmental impact or lower cost, but the real question is whether people are interested.”

This interest, ultimately, is what Collin is examining with his project. He spent three months this summer in Guatemala conducting interviews, to “feel out how people felt about these traditional systems” Concrete block is certainly viewed as the superior material, so Collin wanted to know “whether if Habitat went for [traditional systems], would people be amenable or would they be insulted?” After 30 focus groups, 200 surveys, and eight interviews with housing organizations, Collin is optimistic. “There is definitely a preference for block, but I did find evidence of people adapting that technology, building concrete columns filled in with adobe because it’s cheaper and more comfortable in hot weather. That’s interesting.”

Moving forward, Collin will adapt his formal project into an executive summary which can be translated into Spanish and presented to housing organizations, as a resource for those interested in making a switch to traditional building systems. He also plans to return to Guatemala after graduation.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

July 17, 2013

Featured Faculty: Kari Norgaard

“The work that I do is motivated from a lifelong sense that things are not well with the earth and the people,” Kari Norgaard avers.

Although perhaps best known for her work on climate change denial, for a decade Norgaard has also been working with the Karuk Tribe, whose homelands are located in the northern part of what is now called California, to call attention to the devastating health effects of the loss of traditional food species such as Chinook Salmon, Pacific Lamprey, and freshwater mussels. Recently, she says, there’s been a surge of interest in traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) from the non-native community, in part because of growing concern about climate change among government agencies, environmental organizations, and the public.

“This could be a good thing for tribes or it could be a not good thing for tribes,” Norgaard says. On one hand, the newfound interest in tribal perspectives is encouraging in light of western science’s long history of disregarding traditional ways of knowing; on the other hand, though, many problems can arise when TEK is taken out of context and used without tribal consent.

With Norgaard’s support, “The Karuk are trying to figure out how to strategically use that interest while being able to maintain cultural sovereignty and knowledge sovereignty,” she says. The $36k grant that she wrote and received on behalf of the tribe this year will be used to explore ways the Karuk can retain traditional knowledge while expanding acceptance of their use of fire to manage ecosystems.

As an environmental sociologist who strives to “do interdisciplinary work, think differently, and change the conversation,” Norgaard, who has a B.S. in biology, says, “it’s really powerful to have a grounding in biology in a sense of knowing not only about biological information but also about how that scientific community thinks and understands things.”

Norgaard approaches her teaching as well as her research with an interdisciplinary drive to draw on knowledges from diverse sources. One of the things she most appreciates about the students at UO is that they “come from a lot of real-world lived experience” which, Norgaard says, “really enriches conversations” in the classroom.

Thanks to the existence of multiple programs and departments on the UO campus that include a focus on the environment—The Environmental Studies Program, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, and the Sociology Department, to name a few—Norgaard feels that there is a “critical mass of ideas in the community” surrounding environmental issues. She adds with a smile that she is also “very inspired” by the “phenomenal” students, faculty, and staff in the Environmental Studies Program.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

July 11, 2013

Featured Alumnus: Steve Mital

Serving as the UO’s Director of Sustainability and on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Advisory Council didn’t quite keep Steve Mital (who graduated from the Environmental Studies Master’s Program and founded the Environmental Leadership Program in 2001) busy enough.

Steve says that when he heard last year that a then-current Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) commissioner was not seeking re-election, his long-standing interest in local politics and his admiration for “the great work EWEB does in the community” led him to “give [running for public office] a try.” He adds, “Carpe diem.”

“EWEB runs a $300 million dollar annual operating budget and employs 500 people.   Commissioners review and approve electricity and water rates, set policies that shape the utility, and approve all major contracts.  We also review the general manager’s performance.” Steve explains.

While Steve admits that his new role’s “learning curve is steep,” one of his two major goals is informed by his long-term commitment to environmental sustainability: planning and preparing for climate change. Steve is heartened by the fact that “EWEB commissioners recently supported state-wide carbon tax legislation.”

In addition to thinking about environmental sustainability, Steve is also concerned about economic sustainability: his second major focus is to “develop policies and programs to better insulate low-income rate-payers from rate increases.”

When asked how his foray into local politics is going so far, Steve exclaims “Great!” He adds that he really enjoys working with the other commissioners, and “learning about energy contracts, demand management, lobbying in Salem, bond ratings, and FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] relicensing.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

May 15, 2013

Featured Student: Gabby McDaniel

Gabby McDaniel freely admits that before discovering the UO Environmental Studies Program,  “I never had a strong desire to come to Oregon because of its lack of racial diversity and abundance of rain.” However, the ENVS Graduate Program’s interdisciplinary nature, as well as its “generous financial support” won her over, and she’s glad they did.

“The rain is not as bad as I expected. There are plenty of sunny days to keep you happy. The rain is also more of a mist, so you can still continue most activities,” she laughs. More importantly, though, she says, “I have found stronger feminist, women-of-color and queer-people-of-color communities here than anywhere before. The program has a fierce female graduate student body.”

As soon as Gabby entered the program, she was connected with her interim advisor, Kari Norgaard, and with the other ENVS graduate students Kari advises. “This really helped me have a safe space and get connected to people who were consciously thinking about race, sexuality, and class, especially in relation to environmental issues.”

Being a part of this supportive community, along with attending presentations by some of the UO’s “amazing speakers,” gave Gabby the confidence to do what she was most passionate about for her Master’s project. “[After attending] a great talk put on through the African Studies Lecture Series about a woman who has spent her life researching in Tanzania and China, I decided that I needed to switch my project to something that allowed me to go back to Tanzania because that is where my heart was calling me.”

Gabby is now hard at work putting the finishing touches on an environmental education and leadership program on tourism, society, and the environment which she will spend five months this summer and fall implementing and evaluating at the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) in Tanzania’s Arusha Providence.

Gabby didn’t always know that she wanted to do environmental justice work. “I first became interested in environmental studies in my freshman year of college during a seminar class on energy. During that class I decided to change my major from biochemistry to environmental science, and then eventually to geology.” Later, when she took an environmental sociology course, Gabby realized that she wanted to focus more on the sociological aspects of environmental issues in graduate school.

“I felt that environmental issues are the biggest issues we have to address right now. I decided that my geology background could help me stay grounded in the science of climate change but that I really wanted to be more connected to working with people, especially low income communities and communities of color.”

The flexibility of the ENVS Graduate Program has allowed Gabby to incorporate her diverse interests into her research. “My focus on environmental justice really spans multiple disciplines: sociology, ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, environmental studies, and education,” she says. What’s more, the Program’s option do a self-designed terminal project has given Gabby the opportunity to integrate some of her current passions into her graduate education: when asked what she wants to do after she graduates she says with a smile, “return to Tanzania and continue working on this environmental education program as well as on more community work with the UAACC.”

She continues: “Eventually, I would like to return to the States to help with the environmental education system here, making it more accessible and relevant to all communities; however I have no idea when or if that will ever happen!”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 11, 2012

Featured Faculty: David Sutherland

As David Sutherland sees it, although Coos Bay lacks the glaciers of far-off Greenland’s majestic fjords, the nearby Oregon inlet is just as fascinating. Although Sutherland, an MIT-trained oceanographer, has conducted much of his research in Greenland, when he joined the UO Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies Program faculties last September, he “wanted to work on something local and Oregon-centric.” Creating a computer model of the complex estuarine processes in Coos Bay fit the bill perfectly.

The Coos Bay modeling project is just getting underway. The first step is to gather data describing all of the physical variables that affect the dynamics of the estuary, including the seasonal amounts of water flowing out of Coos River, the area’s weather patterns, the tides, and the estuary’s bathymetry, or shape.

Not only are most of these variables constantly in flux, but they all influence each other, which makes creating a reliable model challenging, to say the least. In Coos Bay, Sutherland explains, “The river discharge is extremely seasonal, going from very wet during the winter storm season, to dry during the late summer and early fall. This change in river input has a drastic influence on the salt content of the estuary, and thus, on its currents, or circulation.” In turn, the circulation, which is also affected by the estuary’s bathymetry as well as by tides and winds, “can dictate the estuary’s salt and temperature distribution.”

To create a computer model of the complex interactions of all of these factors, Sutherland is drawing from tide gauges, meteorological observations, bathymetric charts, and weather models. To ensure that the model is accurate, he is also working with a graduate student who is collecting real-life observations in Coos Bay. “No model is complete without observations—you need to initialize it somehow and you need to validate it.”

Sutherland says of the modeling project, “This is not a pie-in-the-sky exercise, as the liquefied natural gas terminals being discussed for Coos Bay might require ships with a deeper draft, and thus, a deeper channel.” This could have environmental impacts that Sutherland’s model will be designed to help predict. “Changing the shape of the channel could alter the salt balance and circulation in the estuary,” which has the potential to drastically affect the habitats of aquatic species.

In addition to the Coos Bay project, Sutherland is also working on two projects on fjord circulation in Greenland, one funded by the National Science Foundation and the other by NASA. “It’s time-consuming planning for fieldwork in Greenland. But it’s extremely rewarding, both scientifically and from a traveling point of view. It’s a beautiful part of the world!” he says.

In the near future, Sutherland would also like to begin doing glacier-fjord system research in Alaska. “Ironically,” he says, “it is easier to obtain funding to work in Greenland than in Alaska even though the systems are very similar in terms of physical processes and travel to Alaska is much cheaper. The Greenland Ice Sheet is a bigger player in terms of potential sea level rise and is much less explored.”

When asked to reflect on his first year at the UO, during which he taught two large lecture courses in addition to conducting his new and ongoing research projects, Sutherland exclaims, “It’s been a whirlwind!” Of the environmental studies course he taught he says, “It was an amazing introduction to the Pacific Northwest environment and I learned a ton about the natural environs of the Willamette Valley through my interactions with the Environmental Studies Program.” He especially appreciated the opportunity to interact with his students outside of the classroom during the class’ Campus-Community Connections volunteering events.

Looking toward the future, Sutherland will be developing an advanced course in coastal oceanography, and hopes one day soon to teach a course on scientific writing or documentary filmmaking. “This is an area that we, as scientists, need practice in—communicating our results with the public. So we might as well start teaching it to our students too!”

In the long term, Sutherland dreams of using autonomous underwater vehicles called ocean gliders to further investigate Greenland’s fjords. “This would allow us to get data on water properties underneath ice where ships cannot go.” Sutherland also envisions developing “novel technologies for observing the ice-ocean interface in these glacier-fjord systems. Iceberg trackers, tagging marine mammals, etc. are all on the table!”

Most exciting, though, is that Sutherland and his wife, Kelly, who is also an oceanographer and UO professor, just became new parents: Marin Ashley Sutherland was born on November 27th. David jokes, “We’re hoping to raise a little salty Duck.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

October 25, 2012

Featured Student: Keats Conley

The summer before she came to the University of Oregon, Keats Conley, now an environmental studies Master’s student, read Ted Danson’s book, Oceana, which discusses the prediction that in less than one hundred years, the only seafood remaining in the oceans will be jellyfish. “I was so haunted by this idea that upon arriving in graduate school I sought out an advisor who specialized in ‘gelatinous macrozooplankton,’” she says wryly.

From that advisor, Dr. Kelly Sutherland, Keats learned about the “Trojan horse” hypothesis: the idea that jellyfish may be proliferating because, in their polyp stage, they prefer to attach to the now-abundant artificial materials of docks, aquaculture facilities, and offshore energy turbines. Working closely with Dr. Sutherland, Keats designed an experiment to look into the possibility that coastal development may influence the scale of jellyfish blooms in the Northern California Current.

Being an interdisciplinary thinker, however, Keats was just as interested in how jellyfish affect humans as in how human actions affect jellyfish, so she designed a survey to see if jellyfish blooms are currently impacting commercial fisherman in Oregon, Washington, and California. This summer, Keats began working on both her projects simultaneously at the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

When asked what her research involves on a day-to-day basis, Keats replies “A lot of weird things! The one consistency is a lot of repetition—but repetition of drastically different kinds of things.” Things like stuffing 1000 survey envelopes, gluing down 300 postage-stamp-sized samples of typical coastal development materials, and pipetting 5,000 jellyfish larvae (which look like “little yellow submarines”) into a petri dish. There are highlights, though: “Last week, I drove up to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and drove back down with a giant yellow trashcan of jellyfish in my backseat.”

Keats sees the interdisciplinarity of the Environmental Studies Program as one of its key strengths. “This program has afforded me the opportunity to work alongside my dream advisor and pursue research that I find genuinely exciting. I’ve had the flexibility to study marine biology against a natural resource management background that includes environmental economics and management of marine fishes,” she says.

After she finishes her thesis next spring, Keats plans to work with Dr. Sutherland at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories on San Juan Island. Eventually, she hopes to go on to study aquatic or bioresource science and possibly work in an aquaculture laboratory in Japan. Her long-term goal is to help “further the development of rural aquaculture, which has the potential to relieve strain on wild fish stocks worldwide.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

Featured Student: Jessica Rojas

“Environmental justice and social justice go hand in hand…we cannot have one without the other,” affirms Jessica Rojas, an environmental studies major and ethnic studies minor. Jessica’s various commitments on campus reflect this conviction that social and environmental issues are interrelated: she is currently serving as Diversity Coordinator for the ASUO Women’s Center, participates on the Multicultural Center Board, regularly volunteers with groups such as the Native American Student Union, and recently became part of the newly-formed Prison Justice Working Group.

Jessica brings an environmental perspective to all of her work as a social activist. In her capacity as the Women’s Center Diversity Coordinator, one of Jessica’s jobs is to organize events such as the Lylle B. Parker Speaker Series. “My intention is to highlight the intersection of gender, race and the environment by bringing to our campus a woman of color speaker who can put these issues into a working perspective, helping us [apply] the theories we learn about in class.”

Even as a member of the Prison Justice Working Group, Jessica offers an environmental critique: “People don’t realize that prison issues are environmental issues as prison incorporates the built environment, separates people from the natural environment and always involves people who usually either are products of their environment or soon will be once incarcerated.”

Jessica’s work with Salmon Corps in the 1990s was a formative experience that highlighted the connections between environmental degradation and social inequality for her. While teaching K-12 students in the Portland Public Schools about the cultural and ecological importance of salmon, as well as the threats to their continued existence, Jessica also learned that environmental activism is “something one can do in one’s own backyard.”

Being an environmental studies student at the University of Oregon has allowed Jessica to deepen her understanding of the complex causes of environmental issues. “[In the Environmental Studies Program] I have had opportunity to gain new insight on what is driving our desires and philosophies in doing the restoration we are pushing for. This has given me time to assess my past work and think intentionally about how the intersections of race, class and the environment work together.”

When she graduates this year, Jessica plans to return “to her watershed, like a salmon returning to spawn” in order to share the knowledge and experiences she’s gained at the UO. Ultimately, she says, “my dream is to [provide] environmental education to those who would be least likely to have access to it, such as the incarcerated and those involved in drug and alcohol treatment programs. I want to take what I have learned here and make it available and accessible, as I believe one shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to be a good steward of the environment.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

April 2, 2012

Featured Faculty: Matt Dennis, Bitty Roy & Josh Roering

ENVS faculty Bitty Roy, Josh Roering, and Matt Dennis – of biology, geology and history – believe that we have a responsibility to understand the nature and history of our own environment. Last spring, they launched a course to help students better understand Oregon: “Oregon Abroad: a physical, natural and cultural history.” They set up four interlocking courses to be taken simultaneously, and planned seventeen days of fieldwork throughout the state: in the Willamette Valley, the Coast Range mountains, the coast, and the Basin and Range.

Photo credit: Matt Dennis

“Bitty was the major inspiration,” Matt Dennis says, referring to her familiarity with the landscape of eastern Oregon. But another inspiration came from the humanities: Walden. Thoreau writes, “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar… be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”  For Dennis, this meant “our new channels of inquiry would be in our home terrain – in Oregon – in some cases scrambling to construct new expertise that built on our research and teaching but often went well beyond it.”

There were challenges to teaching such a thoroughly interdisciplinary course. “As a historian I usually work inside – we’re an archive-based, bookish, relatively individualistic (non-collaborative) clan. It was a challenge to teach history outdoors, using landscapes and built environments as evidence and text, and to integrate historical knowledge with geological and biological observation and interpretation.”

But as the term went on, their academic training and the students’ enthusiasm transformed three disciplines into a cohesive learning community.

Josh Roering agrees. “I often found myself asking the biology or history students to educate me on something Bitty or Matt had said and this type of initially casual inquiry builds into more profound ideas over the course of a term. It’s really an organic process that begins with just hanging out together. In the university structure, we don’t have enough incentive to do this and we were delighted to have this opportunity.”

And how was the experience for the students? “One student, toward the end of the course, reflecting on all we had done lamented, ‘I can’t believe we have to go back to regular college.’  I think their regular college is better for their participation in Oregon Abroad.  My regular college certainly is,” Dennis reflects.

The team of professors hope to offer the course every other spring, but until it comes into rotation again, they will have to be satisfied with memories such as this, from Matt Dennis:

The class bonded in the slick mud of the Alvord Desert Playa in the midst of our Malheur trip. It was completely unexpected as a few students gingerly skated with bare feet out into the playa, covered by about half an inch of water for miles in every direction, atop a hard, flat layer of mud. Usually that expanse was dry, baked a grayish white color, but this year inordinate amounts of snow and rain had left it slathered in liquid.  Suddenly someone decided to run and slide, someone fell, someone decided to bellywhomp, and soon nearly everyone was slip-sliding across the playa, covered in mud, and filled with joy.  To say they were one with nature at that moment would not be an exaggeration.  Later the mud dried, coating bodies, hair, and clothes with a white layer of silt that adhered tenaciously, though it also spread to everything it touched, like the state vans.  Eventually everything was cleaned (days later playa dust could still be detected), but I still remember Ben’s pants, drying in the sun the next day, standing up on their own.

Photo credit: Matt Dennis

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

February 22, 2012

Featured Student: Maneesh Arora

Maneesh Arora, an Environmental Studies undergraduate student, was recommended by the University Administration and ASUO to sit on the Presidential Search Committee – and gladly accepted.

“Decisions made by this committee will play an integral role in shaping the University of Oregon for years to come,” Maneesh says. “It is very important to have an outstanding University President and I am excited to be part of the process to decide who our next President will be.”

“It is also very important to have strong student voice on the search committee,” he adds.  The controversial termination of former UO President Dr. Richard Lariviere  generated a great deal of community interest – students, staff, faculty and the wider Oregon audience are following the search committee process closely. It is a great decision, then, to call on the skills and strengths of leaders like Maneesh Arora.

Maneesh participated in the Environmental Leadership Program, after being selected for the 2011 Green Power team. “I taught third graders at Adams Elementary about renewable energy. Seeing the students develop while they began to truly understand the importance of renewable energy and our responsibility to protect our environment inspired me to want to be an educator after I graduate,” he writes.

His passion for education has already resulted in his appointment to the Presidential Search Committee, and his next steps promise to be even more influential and inspiring.

“My main goal for after I graduate, much like many other college graduates, is to make a positive impact on the world. Whether that is through being an educator or community organizer, it is important for me to always be pushing back against the many injustices present in the world,” he reflects. While Maneesh is right that many college graduates want to change the world for the better, the amount of time and dedication that he offers to the University of Oregon before graduating is truly impressive. When asked what other activities he participates in, he answers, “A few highlights are my former position as Vice President of the ASUO, Board Treasurer and Campaign Manager for OSPIRG, and member of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT). I am currently a Student Ambassador and member of Students of the Indian Subcontinent (SIS).”

And now, he can add “a member of the Presidential Search Committee” to that highlights list. His commitment to education, and his insights as an ENVS undergraduate, will certainly help guide the UO towards a successful Presidential appointment and a strong future.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 1, 2011

Featured Faculty: Kathy Lynn

Kathy Lynn is an adjunct faculty researcher in the University of Oregon’s Environmental Studies Program, where she coordinates the Tribal Climate Change Project, a collaboration with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Detailing the importance of the project, Lynn explains, “For indigenous peoples, the environmental impacts of climate change and some of the proposed solutions threaten cultural survival and ways of life, including subsistence and financial resources.” This project builds an understanding of the needs, lessons learned, and opportunities American Indians and Alaska Natives have in planning for the physical effects of climate change. Findings from this research are intended to inform resource management decision-making.

“Our current research is focused on examining how climate change will impact tribal culture, sovereignty and resilience. Specifically, we seek to understand how tribal rights, including access to, use and management of resources on- and off-reservation will be affected by climate change,” Lynn says. And furthermore, “We are also developing profiles of tribes engaged in innovative efforts to address climate change through the development of adaptation plans, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and through collaboration with other tribal entities and public and private organizations,” Lynn points out.

From the profile on the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative.

Given the breadth and significance of the project, Lynn can’t do it alone. On her team are three student researchers: Carson Viles, an undergraduate student in the University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program and the Clark Honors College; Kirsten Vinyeta, a graduate student from the University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program; and Yochanan Zakai, a law student, situated in the University of Oregon School of Law.

Viles writes, “Working for the Tribal Climate Change Project has been a rare opportunity for me. My interest as an Environmental studies student is in indigenous advocacy, and this project allows me to narrow my focus while getting an inside view of what is going on in many native communities today. Also, I am getting the chance to see how professionals are collaborating and networking to solve complex problems in Native America. Helping with this project, I feel as if I am actually doing something meaningful!”

Lynn adds, “We are also examining the role of traditional knowledge in understanding climate change impacts and identifying culturally appropriate strategies to address climate change. Our hope is that this research will contribute to an understanding of these issues among policy makers, agencies and researchers, while also assisting tribes to plan for climate change and better engage with public agencies addressing climate change.”

Through this project, Lynn facilitates the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Network, which includes over 75 individuals representing American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, intertribal organizations, public agencies and non-governmental organizations that work directly with tribes. She has also had the opportunity to contribute findings from the project to regional and national audiences, including the National Congress of American Indians, the National Climate Assessment and the Northwest Climate Science Center.

More information on the project can be found at:

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

October 24, 2011

Featured Students: Megan Toth & Kelly Sky

ENVS Master’s student Megan Toth reports on her cooperative, interdisciplinary work in India.

“I am currently in Sirsi, Karnataka, India with my brilliant and wonderful colleague Kelly Sky. Together, we’re working to make a short film about a woman’s seed collective here called Vanastree (“women of the forest”) and to learn about broader issues facing the region. My master’s project will be a combination of this film and a write-up about Vanastree and an affiliate organization of theirs, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Almost all of our filming will be done here in India, while the editing and writing will be done back home in Oregon.”

Kelly Sky is also an ENVS graduate student. Megan writes, “Working with another graduate student is fantastic. We’re able to bounce ideas off each other, take more risks, and think more creatively as a pair. Parsing out our solo work is tricky since we’re spending most of our time together, but it works out since there’s so much material to cover. We can work on the film together, but divide and conquer other questions. The whole experience has made me very passionate about collaborative work. Collaboration breeds creativity and action, and I think universities are in an especially unique position to bring people together and form solution-oriented communities.”

Megan and Kelly may be taking a different tack for their master’s degrees than the traditional thesis, but they aren’t alone — several ENVS graduate students are pursuing terminal projects. “I love that this program has allowed me to follow my dreams as they emerge, and to come to India… and to make a film! I’ve been able do something creative and different from what I ever imagined was possible,” Megan says. While it can be a challenge to design and complete a meaningful, manageable project, Megan and Kelly are experiencing great success and support from Vanastree and the local community.

On her time in India, Toth reflects, “In the rural areas, life is a little slower. There’s a greater reliance on farming and gardening for food, which is part of what we’re filming. The tropical forest, where Kelly and I are staying, is hot, green, lush, buggy, and alive. And both of us have gotten leech bites from the army of leeches that come after the monsoons, so we’re looking forward to the change of seasons,” she laughs.  “The forest is incredibly beautiful, especially with the peaceful rice paddies that dapple the countryside.”

However, the leeches aren’t the lasting impression Toth will take from her time in India. “The people here are fantastic. So many smiles, waves, and conversations in English and broken bits of Kannada (the state language of Karnataka). Many people have even invited us home for meals!”

Megan and Kelly plan to have their film wrapped up by the end of 2012. In the meantime, still photos can be seen at their shared flickr account.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

June 4, 2011

Featured Students: Kory Northrup & Briana Orr

ENVS master’s student Kory Northrop and Environmental Studies undergraduate Briana Orr are making a difference in bicycle advocacy, education and planning. This year, their efforts have helped bring bicycle transportation issues into focus at a local and national scale.

Largely due to Briana Orr’s efforts, the University of Oregon received a Silver-level Bike Friendly University award from the League of American Bicyclists. UO was one of 20 universities across the country to be recognized, with Stanford University taking the only platinum-level award.  The Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bicycle-friendly campus for students, staff and visitors. Briana, along with UO Bike Program coordinator Ted Sweeney, researched and wrote the application.

Briana also wrote and received a 17k grant from the Associated Students of University of Oregon for bicycle infrastructure improvements identified in the 1991 Campus Bike Plan.  Briana’s proposal will create a premier bicycling network on campus.  The grant will help install bicycle path signage and safety pavement markings for cyclists, and the UO Bike Program will perform outreach and education around the new bicycle infrastructure features.

“When I think about making a street comfortable and enjoyable for people, I instantaneously begin to imagine all of the conversations and interactions that will take place,” says Briana. “Designing the framework for interactions is what gets me excited about transportation.”

Kory Northrop agrees.  “To me, and many advocates in the field, a true bicycle-friendly city is one in which a family with small children could safely and comfortably traverse the streets to accomplish all of the tasks required to live their lives whether it’s getting groceries, going to school, seeing a film, or just taking a joyride,” says Kory.

Kory is passionate about data visualization and about bicycle transportation. This year, he created a map graphic that has appeared in local and national bicycle media, including the League of American Bicyclists and We Bike Eugene websites.  Bicycle Commuting Trends in the United States creates a tool for bicycle advocates that is both clean and informative.  It pulls together data in a visual format, painting a different picture than would be gained by looking at individual data sets.

Kory hopes that tools like this one will help inform the people who are making decisions about bicycle transportation.  “I think that we need to be reaching out to the public and the decision makers at the same time,” he says.  “It’s important for both of these groups to know about the benefits of bicycling. It’s important for us, as a country, to start getting serious about bicycling as a legitimate mode of transportation. If we want to move away from automobiles and our oil dependency, making big investments in bicycle infrastructure is lucrative and efficient.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

November 28, 2010

Featured Student: Kevin Belanger

“The best part of ENVS in my opinion is the emphasis on community.  The small incoming classes each year allow us to create a close and supportive group of students and faculty.”

When Kevin Belanger entered the Environmental Studies Program in Fall 2008, he was passionate about alternative transportation and ready to engage in graduate studies that would provide him with direct professional experience.  This December, Kevin graduates with concurrent Masters degrees in Environmental Studies and Community and Regional Planning.  He looks forward to turning his passion into practice.

“I want to use my environmental studies and community and regional planning degrees to make it easier for people to choose to use other modes of transportation besides the personal automobile,” says Kevin.

Upon beginning the program, Kevin quickly found a thesis project directly related to his academic and professional interests.  For the past two years, he’s worked with Nico Larco, an Assistant Professor of Architecture, on an ongoing project examining walking and biking in Eugene suburban multifamily housing.  Kevin developed and conducted surveys, and his thesis ultimately offers recommendations to help improve transportation options in these kinds of communities.

Kevin also recently completed an academic internship as a transportation planner for the City of Gresham.  Over the summer, he helped redesign a major arterial to make it easier for people to walk to public transportation stops in Gresham, and also wrote a large federal transportation grant application for the city. “This internship gave me tangible experience and solid connections to help me fulfill my goals, which was awesome,” says Kevin.

Later this December, Kevin will return home to Washington, D.C., where he hopes to improve the walking and biking environment on the East Coast.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

November 18, 2010

Featured Faculty: Allison Carruth

Professor Allison Carruth is an Assistant Professor of English and the newest member of the Environmental Studies Program’s core faculty, having joined the program this past September. Allison arrived at the University of Oregon in 2008 after earning a PhD in English and American Literature from Stanford University.  She was awarded a Resident Scholar Fellowship with the Wayne Morse Center for Law & Politics for 2010-11.

“I was delighted to become a core faculty member this fall,” says Allison. “The opportunity to collaborate with scholars working in areas such as riparian ecosystems, urban planning and environmental ethics enriches my own research and teaching.”

As a Resident Scholar with the Wayne Morse Center, Professor Carruth is organized an interdisciplinary conference that brought together scholars, policymakers, nonprofit leaders, farmers and food purveyors to consider questions of food justice, security, and sustainability.  The Food Justice Conference took place in February 2011, and featured Indian activist Vandana Shiva, farm policy leader Fred Kirschenmann, and Gastronomica founding editor Darra Goldstein, among others.

Dr. Carruth is particularly fascinated by questions that explore the intersection of food, technology, and the arts.  In her scholarship, she draws from multiple disciplines to ask how contemporary writers, media makers, and artists understand environmental problems around industrial agriculture and biotechnology.  Allison completed her first book, Global Appetites:  Imagining the Power of Food, this summer.  She is currently working on a new project, titled Bio-Art: Mediating Science in the Transgenic Era, also funded by her fellowship with the Wayne Morse Center.

Bio-Art investigates a group of writers, artists, architects, molecular biologists, and even product engineers who are bridging two cultural divides:  the division of art and science and the tension between technological development and environmental conservation,” says Allison.

When not working on her academic pursuits, Allison can be found cooking, skiing, or maintaining her blog.

To learn more about Allison Carruth’s work, please visit her website.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

October 13, 2010

Featured Student: Julia Ridgeway

«I came to the UO unsure of exactly what I wanted to do for my Master’s thesis, but I knew that with the flexibility and interdisciplinarity of the Environmental Studies Program that I would be free to explore.»

When Julia Ridgeway came to the Environmental Studies Program in 2009, it didn’t take long for her to find a unique research niche that fit her interests. Julia joined a research group in the Anthropology Department that conducts research in the Ecuadorian Amazon every summer.

For her master’s thesis, Julia will be working with an indigenous federation as they undergo the process of westernization. «Topics as complex as westernization and indigenous cultural transition are something that can only be approached from an interdisciplinary and nuanced perspective, and the people at the Environmental Studies Program understand and support that sort of cross-pollination,» says Julia.

This summer Julia will spend two months in the Ecuadorian Amazon working with the Shuar Health and Life History project. The project is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international collaboration between researchers in the United States, Ecuador and leaders of the indigenous Shuar Federation. The Shuar are in the process of transitioning from a traditional hunter-gatherer economy to a more westernized market, and the UO research group is studying the effects of that transition on their culture and health.

Julia’s focus will be on the effect of these changes on women’s health, specifically on their fertility and reproductive choices. I will be taking blood samples for hormone analysis and also conducting surveys to find out how westernization impacts the choices women make about their bodies and their families.

«I have always been very interested in the various biological and cultural factors that affect women’s health and choices,» says Julia, «And I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about those topics first hand.»

After finishing her master’s degree in 2011, Julia hopes to continue teaching and conducting research at the university level. She plans to continue focusing on the intersection of environmental and economic change, women’s health, and Latin America. What did you do between undergrad and grad school?

Julia’s research in Ecuador is funded through the Barker Foundation and by the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies at the University of Oregon.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

September 28, 2010

Featured Alumna: Janet Fiskio

Janet Fiskio received her Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy in 2009 with English as her focal department. She is now an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College. Oberlin’s Environmental Studies program was among the first in the U.S. and has a long history of valuing the humanities. She teaches on such themes as environmental justice, ethics and equity in climate change, and sustainable agriculture.

“I love what I do: reading, thinking, talking, teaching, writing,” says Janet. “Focusing in Environmental Studies is a good bridge for me between academics and activism. I believe that teaching is a force for social change, and I have faith in my students’ abilities to make a difference.”

Janet’s new position ties in well with her interests and accomplishments while at the UO. She completed her dissertation Nature, Knowledge, Justice in the summer of 2009. Her dissertation argues for the epistemological value of literature for the field of environmental studies. While a Ph.D. student, Janet received the Donald and Darrel Stein Award for teaching, a CSWS/CoDaC summer research award, an Oregon Humanities Center Fellowship, and the Luvaas and Risa Palm Fellowships. She also taught classes in Environmental Studies, English, and Composition, and served one year as Assistant Director of the Composition Program.

Before enrolling at the University of Oregon Janet completed two terms with AmeriCorp’s program “Communities in Partnership to Stop Violence against Women and Children” as a community educator. She has also worked at Sexual Assault Support Services to coordinate education programs and has taught self-defense for women and girls. Janet earned a B.A. from Earlham College, a M.Div. from the Earlham School of Religion, and an M.A. from the University of Oregon in Environmental Studies.

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