A wise professor once told me that the odds of any individual making a significant, direct impact on society were quite small. He then argued that my greatest potential for effecting change would be through teaching and guiding students so that they may one day change the world in an important way. This has fueled my passion for teaching about our planet, its complex environmental and social problems and how to generate solutions to those problems. This process requires us to remove the blinders of single disciplinary learning through collaborative hands-on, project-based experiences. The lab, the college greenhouse, a local forest and a community in Costa Rica are among our classrooms. Community members and diverse stakeholders become our teachers. This allows us to explore our fundamental connections to the natural world and how to understand and effect change and to forge a path towards a sustainable future. That wise professor was correct: My students are changing the world through their engagement in community. They have become graduate students, Peace Corps volunteers, activists, professors, physicians, environmental lawyers, eco-entrepreneurs, scientists and teachers.
My research focuses on two distinct but related areas: plant ecology and sustainability. In plant ecology, my lab, which has received more than $1 million in research funding from The National Science Foundation, has focused on the ecological, genetic and chemical factors that influence plant-insect interactions.
In the area of sustainability, I work internationally on sustainable forestry and food production and on documenting medicinal plant use. I have been working in the Costa Rican community of Las Juntas de Abangares for more than 15 years on eco-educational tourism development, public health and environmental studies on the effects of local gold mining and the development of alternative fuels. I have published dozens of scholarly articles in the areas of ecology and sustainability, and on environmental, science, international and interdisciplinary education. I have two forthcoming books: “Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations,” with Oxford University Press, and another, co-authored with photographer Joe Elliott, titled, “In Exchange for Gold: The Legacy and Sustainability of Mining in Las Juntas de Abangares, Costa Rica,” with Common Ground Publishing.