Yes, I certainly did not ever picture myself being so happy at a business college. As I was preparing to finish my PhD, I started looking for part-time teaching positions to gain some additional classroom experience, but also have some flexibility while finishing my publications and looking after my first child. As luck would have it, the professor who taught Environmental Technology was going on sabbatical and Babson needed a one-year replacement. I took the position with a mind-set that after 1 year, I would apply elsewhere. However, once I began teaching at Babson, I realized that the ideal position I had been seeking was right in front of me. During those first few weeks to months at Babson starting in September 2007 I came face to face with the vitally important (and oftentimes missing) link between science and business education. I saw students’ eyes light up when I discussed new potential renewable energy options and I found myself truly enjoying the challenge of teaching science to non-majors and guiding them toward the direct application of science in their everyday lives and in their business pursuits.
Please tell us about your research.
I am a forest ecologist, trained in plant-field methods and soil biogeochemistry. Broadly my research is focused on understanding the numerous effects humans are having on our various natural ecosystems, especially the forests of New England. I am interested in plant and soil responses to all aspects of global environmental change; including invasive species spread, land use shifts, nitrogen deposition, and climate change. I have performed extensive research investigating the ecosystem impacts of invasive species spread within Massachusetts and Connecticut. More recently I have been working at the Boston Area Climate Experiment (BACE) in Waltham, MA testing the effects of simulated climate change (warming and rainfall manipulation) on plants and soils. I consider myself very lucky because my research allows me to spend the majority of the summer outside playing in the dirt.
The classes that you teach bring a very interesting perspective to the Babson community. For example, you teach a class called “Economic Botany.” Can you tell us how this class came about and what your students learn?
Yes, I have developed 5 brand new courses so far at Babson and Economic Botany is my 4-credit advanced elective course and I love it. I have designed this course to introduce students to plant biology while also investigating some of the major ways we utilize plants: food, materials, perfumes, drugs, and medicines. Throughout the course we discuss the role plants have played in influencing economics, language, arts, and religion. We specifically focus on ways we can use plants as more sustainable alternatives to business pursuits. I bring in hands-on activities every class and we have a number of interesting guest speakers and field trips.
What are some big picture takeaways that you hope your students will leave Babson with?
- Basic important scientific concepts to create conscientious global citizens
- Inquiry-based problem solving skills
- The value and applicability of science to everyday life and business pursuits
- Understanding the science behind environmental issues (which is sadly often misunderstood by many people)
Can you share some examples of the positive impact your students are having on the environment, whether through Babson or their own projects?
I have had a number of Babson students perform summer field research with me, which has been a fantastic experience. Every semester I have growing numbers of students who get jobs within environmental sustainability-focused companies. I also have a number of students working to implement ideas we discussed in class within their companies, whether they are environmentally-based companies or not. My students are what help to keep me an optimist.
Where do you see opportunity for the business community to solve environmental problems?
I see business as leading the way for environmental change in the future. Sadly politicians are never able to make change fast enough, so the burden for change comes from consumer desires and business leaders. There are unbelievable opportunities for development with the integration of new renewable energies, climate change mitigation, and new strategies for product development that involve using waste products. All very exciting stuff.