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Featured Faculty: Ronald Mitchell

picture-145-f76b3ed1510dae8c0891fce680679941Political Science and Environmental Studies professor Ronald Mitchell is one of three faculty recipients of the 2017 Tykeson Teaching Award for excellence in education.

Mitchell’s research focuses on understanding international environmental treaties and which factors make some treaties more “effective” than others in getting countries to practice environmental protection. His interests include both researching the minutiae of specific treaties and how they are designed and implemented, as well as broader patterns and data on efficacy that emerge from examining hundreds of environmental treaties and protocols that different countries have signed. His inspiration for the work stems from an awareness of the environmental harm that humankind has historically wrought at the personal, local, national, and international level and the sustaining hope that providing his students with proper research skills might contribute to mitigating human-caused environmental damage in future.

For Mitchell, there is an indelible link between research and teaching. As he describes it, reading the works of other researchers broadens his understanding of issues related to treaties, and conducting his own research requires “active, careful, and rigorous thinking about these issues”. But, effective teaching requires identifying ways to communicate his own knowledge clearly and succinctly, which in turn deepens his own understanding of the topic. Thus, research and teaching are part of an “iterative” and mutually reinforcing process.

However, one of best parts about serving this dual role is the ability to bring students into the research process. Here, Mitchell puts it best himself:

“One of the great pleasures of being a faculty member who cares about teaching and research comes from inviting students to do research with me.  Over 25 years of teaching at UO, I have invited over 75 undergraduate and graduate students to help me build a database of all international environmental agreements. Those students have helped create a database that now provides the most comprehensive list of international environmental treaties in the world.  The most rewarding part of involving students in my research, however, has been the deep friendships that develop through the mentoring process. Students I have worked with have gone on to excellent graduate schools and/or positions in government, nongovernmental organizations, and universities. These students, and my close relationships with them, inspire me by their extraordinary commitment to helping protect the environment that we live in and are a part of.”

If you are interested in learning more about Mitchell’s work, links to his video lectures can be found here; or read his book International Politics and the Environment (Sage, 2010).

For more information about international environmental treaties, visit the International Environmental Agreements Database Project.