One way that John traverses countries and cultures is through his work with the Au Sable Institute
, in which he develops undergraduate environmental science programs in both the United States and Canada.
He says, “There are clear differences in the national perspectives on our interdisciplinary field. So this work has been helpful, giving me insights into the challenges of program development across each country.”
John’s rich environmental career allows him to ‘see the wood for the trees,’ as breadth, along with particular subject matter depth, helps him establish an overall vision of the sector and where it is headed.
Learn more about John and his fascinating career path in this interview.
What initially motivated you to enter the field of the environment? What continues to motivate you?
Now I will give away my age, but early in my undergraduate years, our supplementary ecology texts were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. So I came of age during the halcyon days of the environmental movement. The first wave of environmental programs were being invented out of whole cloth as higher education scrambled, along with every other segment of society, to understand the ‘environment.’
Later in graduate school, I was torn between the choice of disciplinary depth in my traditional field, or moving toward these newly emerging environmental areas. It was the stimulus of teaching undergraduates in the early 1990’s that brought new focus for me on the environment as a field of study.
What skills and abilities are needed to do the work that you do?
I heard an illusionist say one time that, “Any 12 year old can do what I do…with 20 years experience!” That sounds like a good description of the skills you need as an academic administrator today.
What are some exciting developments you are seeing in the field of environment?
There are many technical wonders that we could rightly point to that are giving us tools to solve the challenges we face. But I think the greatest breakthrough is the emerging societal awareness that we need a (new) class of professionals who combine both disciplinary depth with environmental problem-solving breadth. The graduates emerging from environmental programs today give us hope for reaching a sustainable future.
You are a Canadian Universities Environmental Sciences Network (CUESN) member and ECO Canada National Accreditation Site Visit Evaluation Team Volunteer. The CUESN, along with the Canadian Colleges Environmental Network (CCEN), approached ECO Canada to initiate the National Accreditation Project. What was the rationale for the project at that time? Is the project producing anticipated deliverables?
At CUESN we have been working and dreaming (and sharply debating too) for well over a decade that we could realize a national standard for undergraduate environmental programming. The hope was that a national accreditation process would validate the quality of all of our programs. And from what I have seen on site visits, it is doing so with a number of university administrators. Starting any new process is challenging, and no less with this one. But it is encouraging that we are seeing tangible results so early in the process.
What are the benefits of volunteering as a National Accreditation Site Visit Evaluation Team Volunteer?
It is always a privilege to be given the opportunity to see deeply into another program. In every case I have learned something new, confirmed some good practice, and been renewed by the networking between academic and industrial representatives.
One of the greatest benefits of volunteering is the chance to hear the success stories of alumni in program after program. Together the graduates of our programs are making a tremendous contribution to Canada. It is fun to hear them bragging about our colleagues, and then to be able to report those good words back to them on a job well done.
What do you envision for the future of the National Accreditation Project?
There are many varieties of environmentally-related programs. The CUESN and CCEN executives have been working with ECO Canada to expand the range of programs eligible for accreditation. But beyond that is the need to continue exploring the linkages between the academy and the environmental practitioners of this emerging discipline.
What are some site visit highlights?
Two things stand out in my mind: The staff and the students, both current and alumni. We all know the essential role that key support staff members play in our programs. And on each visit we have heard the accolades and meet the individuals who play this vital role in student success. It is a pleasure to hear their stories and see the results of their hard work in student satisfaction. The passion of the emerging young professionals that we meet is also outstanding. And topping it all off was a mouth-watering lunch prepared at the student-run deli, complete with fresh greens grown on the campus!