The College of the Environment at Wesleyan University was created with a belief in the resilience of the human spirit and a desire to develop a long-term vision of human and ecosystem health. coexist is the blog of our COE (College of the Environment) community: a vibrant group of students, faculty, alumni, and others interested in exploring our natural world and our place in it. Our mission, simply stated: to change the world.
Celebrating our coexist community, today and every day.
Melissa Thornton ’20 is a current College of Environment Think Tank fellow from Atlanta, Georgia, and a winner of this year’s Sophie and Anne Reed Prize for best poem or group of poems at Wesleyan. A double major in the COL and French Studies, Melissa shared her thoughts on the importance of poetry in times of chaos.
Alexander Wragge-Morley, Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies and History at New York University, visited campus on February 12, 2020, to share his lecture, “Words, Experience & Non-Resemblance: Representing Nature in 17th-Century England.” He discussed the way English naturalists, particularly botanist John Ray (1627-1705), represented their findings about concrete research in the natural world through figures meant to evoke emotional responses from their viewers.
Dr. Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, has been awarded a $300,000 NASA grant to examine forest type-conversion through the lens of evapotranspiration (plant sweat) in response to high-severity wildfire in southeastern Arizona. Poulos and her team will conduct their research using imagery gathered by the ECOSTRESS sensor mounted on the International Space Station. It will be the first-ever test of the ECOSTRESS sensor’s applicability for wildfire-related research.
Plants facing the aftermath of wildfire often have insufficient water, which causes their temperature to rise. The ECOSTRESS radiometer measures the temperatures of plants across Earth to an extraordinarily accurate degree. Poulos’s NASA-funded project will specifically investigate the effects of the 2011 Horseshoe Two Fire on post-fire plant and site water balance and evaluate the potential of using data gathered from the ECOSTRESS sensor to predict wildfire effects on plant community structure and water relations in an Arizona Sky Island pine-oak forest.
The Posse Veteran Scholars Program identifies talented veterans interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and places them at top tier colleges and universities, where they receive four-year full scholarships. Each year, Wesleyan accepts a “posse” of 10 veterans. Today, on Veterans Day, we honor all U.S. military veterans by shining the spotlight on two of our own: Gabe Snashall ’21 and Michael Freiburger ’21.
You’re both Posse Veterans here at Wes, class of 2021. Why did you join the military and what was your role?
Michael Freiburger (MF): I joined the Army right out of high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, and college wasn’t an option, but I knew that I needed to get out of my hometown. I spent the majority of my service at Fort Bragg North Carolina (5 years), and two years station in Germany. I deployed to Afghanistan twice and worked as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician – Bomb Squad.
Gabe Snashall (GS): I joined right after graduating from High School in Fresno, California in 2011. At the time, the unemployment rate in my hometown was +18% and rising, so everybody I knew was leaving to either go to college, the peace corps, or the military. For me, the better option seemed to be a military program that offered college credit, a year or two of formal military training, and, of course, a decent amount of travel experience. Broadly speaking, I chose the military option for the opportunity to focus on and explore what I wanted to do in life, what I wanted to study, and where I wanted to go to school. I found that opportunity with the Naval Submarine Service and left my hometown a short two weeks after signing paperwork. That decision took me to Chicago for bootcamp and Connecticut for Submarine School. I was then stationed on the USS Pittsburgh (recently decommissioned) from 2011-2016, and was deployed to the Middle East, the North Pole, the Indian Sea, the Arctic Sea, and the Caribbean. In fact, I think we sailed the globe over three times while I was onboard. On land, we would port in Scotland, Spain, the UAE, and Norway. On ‘The Pit’, I officially served as an Electronics Technician (ET)—specializing in satellite telecommunications, cryptographic operations, and radar and periscope maintenance. Unofficially, my peers knew me as “Snooki,” a nickname that was a reference to, and mostly making fun of, the loud and annoying way I would persuade submarine officers to accept my work requests or proposals. I won’t go into detail here, but the highly chaotic working world on a submarine brings out the most competitive side of all who work onboard—so it’s an anything goes world, really.
How did you find out about the Posse Veterans program?
MF: I found out about the Posse Veterans program while I was processing out of the military. I was pretty fortunate that Posse representatives were at Fort Bragg the same week I was in mandatory exit briefs. I was lucky enough to meet with the program that week and began the process that brought me here to Wesleyan.
This spring, Wesleyan will offer its first-ever ENVS course taught in Spanish, ENVS283/LAST383, Venezuela: The Effect of Oil Discovery on People, the Environment, and Democracy. The course will be taught by Antonio Machado-Allison, former Menakka and Essel Bailey ‘66 Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment and current research fellow in the College of the Environment. He was recently named a member of the Academia de Ciencias de América Latina.
Tell us about ENVS283. Why are you focusing on Venezuela?
Antonio Macado-Allison (AMA): Being a Venezuelan scholar and witnessing what is happening in my country, one way I think I can help my people is to let citizens of other countries know how Venezuela arrived at these conditions. In the course we will discuss the key factors that have affected the development of Venezuela and its environment from the pre-colonial period to the present through the reading of interdisciplinary literature that includes anthropology, religion, sociology, environmental sciences, law, and history. Ultimately, we will examine the factors that have led to the collapse of democracy in Venezuela.
The Careers in Sustainability panel, hosted by the Gordon Career Center, the College of the Environment, and the Sustainability Office on October 4, 2019, included Nora Vogel ’11, director of communications for Coalition for Green Capital. The College of the Environment graduated its first cohort of environmental studies majors in 2010. Below, an interview with Vogel ’11, one of the first students to ever major in environmental studies at Wesleyan.
Did you come to Wesleyan knowing you wanted to study Environmental Studies? What led you to the COE?
Nora Vogel (NV): I knew I was interested in science and the environment, and I was thinking about doing biology. I actually worked in Professor Sonia Sultan’s lab, which was an amazing experience. At the same time, it felt hard to stick to research science as a career path, when I felt that many decision-makers in the world aren’t listening to the perfectly good science that we already have. That’s what got me interested in communications and in the Science in Society Program (SISP). I wondered what makes people make decisions about things, and what makes them trust one source and not another one. I took a Media in Society class that dovetailed really well with that, along with some sociology classes. I took a philosophy class with Professor Joseph Rouse about objectivity that I loved; we went deep down the rabbit hole of whether objective truth really exists. I still think about it all the time. The great thing about SISP was that it gave me a way to fit those things together, and it ended up being directly relevant to the career path I ended up on.
Introduction to Environmental Studies/ENVS197 examines the technical and social causes of environmental degradation at local and global scales, along with the potential for developing policies and philosophies that are the basis of a sustainable society. This semester Dr. Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, is teaching the course. Poulos is a plant ecologist who examines the influences of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on local-, landscape-, and regional-scale plant distribution patterns. She recently received a $300K research grant from NASA.
What are the class components of ENVS197 and how do those components tie-in with the COE’s focus on interdisciplinary study?
Helen Poulos (HP): The course is an intro/survey course, so we cover topics spanning the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The idea is to cover the breadth of the field of study. The final project, however, is designed as a way for students to dive deeper into one environmental issue that really interests them. The final project options this semester include working with Wesleyan Physical Plant and Forklift Danceworks, making an artist book, or writing a Green Fund proposal. All three options are designed to provide students with unique opportunities to engage with environmental issues through a particular lens. For the Physical Plant project, students shadow Physical Pant workers for three hours each week and have biweekly group meetings with my course assistant, Tamara Rivera ‘21 and Gretechen LaMotte ’18 of Forklift Danceworks (via Skype). For the artist book project, students workshop their projects with Suzy Taraba from Special Collections and participate in two bookbinding and printmaking workshops with Alexander Osborne, visiting assistant professor of art. I also lead two workshops on grant writing for students who select the Green Fund proposal option.
Last weekend various Wesleyan sustainability groups joined local community gardeners, farmers, and activists for a conference on all things urban farming and food justice. The event was cosponsored by the Green Fund, the Middletown Economic Development Commission, the College of the Environment, the Wesleyan Resource Center, the Science in Society Program, and the African American Studies Department. With this wide array of support, student coordinators were able to collaborate with local stakeholders to put together a conference that was able to bridge the gap between Wesleyan and the surrounding community, as well as to provide the space for connections between Wes sustainability groups.
On Saturday, October 5, hundreds of Wes and Middletown community members spent their day soaking up the sun at Long Lane Farm’s 2019 Pumpkin Fest. Cosponsored by the COE, the Green Fund, and Wesleyan Bon Appetit, the student-run event featured live local bands, local vendors, farm tours, crafts, free veggie burgers and cider thanks to Bon Appetit, baked goods for sale benefitting New Horizons Domestic Violence Shelter, a pie-eating contest with prizes courtesy of WesPress, and lots of Wes student groups, including the Sustainability Office, CAG, WesDivest, Bread Salvage, Resource Center Spirituality and Sustainability Interns, WildWes, Natural History Museum, Sunrise, Outing Club, Wesleyan Refugee Project, Uslac, Veg Out, Real Food Challenge, NEAT & WesNEAT. A special thanks to Wesleyan RJ Julia, NoRA Cupcakes, Auntie Arwen’s Spices, and Adelbrook Bark-ery for joining us for the day—and to an amazing lineup of talented performers for sharing their songs: Lopii, Iris Olympia, Barry Chernoff, Emcee Elvee, Rebecca Roff, and Skye Hawthorne!