Panel of alumni considers ecological developments



Over sandwiches and Snapples, students at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies learned how an interest in urban ecology can take them anywhere from a bustling city in a developing South American country, to the parks department that services their own backyards.

The environment school and the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology sponsored a panel discussion Monday about new developments in the field of urban ecology. The talk, which was attended by approximately 45 students and faculty, was given by four environmental school alumni. Colleen Murphy-Dunning, one of the event’s coordinators and the director of both the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology and the Urban Resources Initiative, or URI, said the panel discussion was meant to inform students about current fieldwork in urban ecology and ways to use their degrees.

“Our intent was to bring back alums who are doing exciting work in urban areas to share their strategies for addressing critical urban issues,” Murphy-Dunning said.

Rose Harvey FES ’84, Paul Jahnige ’89 FES ’93, Carlos Linares FES ’03, and Carrie Magee FES ’02 spoke about their careers, which varied from nonprofit environmental organizations to the World Bank and state forestry bureaus. They focused on the technical aspects of their experiences as well as how they arrived in their current positions.

Jahnige described the nonprofit organization he started, which plants trees in cities and his current position as a community action forester for the Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry. He works in the area where he grew up and stressed the importance of knowing your own ecosystem.

“Getting to know your ecosystem is really important,” Jahnige said. “You get to explore the interconnection between people, culture and the environment.”

Harvey, a senior vice president at Trust for Public Land, spoke about the work her nonprofit does creating parks and natural areas in urban communities. She explained the avenues used to fund the parks and make sure they are maintained in the future.

Linares is a consultant and senior water specialist at the World Bank in the water and energy department. He spoke about the mechanisms people use to get water in developing countries and the economic ramifications when they change. He also addressed the environment school’s role in the field of urban ecology.

“It’s an exciting moment because of the emerging urban environmental change,” Linares said. “This school is broadening the definition of what urban ecology is.”

Magee is an urban forestry specialist with the New Jersey Tree Foundation, a nonprofit organization that plants trees in Camden, N.J. She said revitalizing the environment in urban areas helps foster a sense of community.

The Urban Resources Initiative and the environment school also deal with urban ecology. Nao Teshima FES ’04 said her experience as an intern at URI last summer lent itself well to the topics the panel addressed.

“My main purpose in coming was to see what people are doing with it [urban ecology],” Teshima said. “Some of it I could relate to more than others. Some I don’t have much experience with, but it was interesting to hear about how it’s all connected.”

Speakers said the event was intended to teach participants about urban ecology and inform them about careers in the field. William Burch Jr., an environment school professor who helped facilitate the panel discussion, said the speakers showed you can have a respectable, dignified, proper job in forestry while still supporting a family.

The speakers met with faculty from the environment school after the panel to further discuss the direction the field of urban ecology is taking. Murphy-Dunning said this discussion took place because they strive to best prepare environment school students for meaningful careers.

“We want help understanding from the alums where they see the direction of their professions going so we can better prepare our students,” Murphy-Dunning said.

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