I introduced five new environmental studies courses into the permanent catalogue at the University of Florida, including two upper-division courses (Florida Environmental Politics, Environmental Politics in the Global South) and two graduate seminars (Environmental Politics, Water Politics). I also developed the introductory-level Politics of Sustainability, which is a core course for the B.A. in Sustainability Studies, a program that I helped established.
These courses were not just new to UF -- there are few to no similar courses offered at any U.S. university. Political science departments typically offer three types of environmental courses: environmental policy (focusing on the U.S. and occasionally Europe or other postindustrial countries), global environmental politics (focusing on international treaties and the like), and ecopolitical theory and ethics (focusing on political philosophy).
Likewise, most political scientists working on environmental issues are in the subfields of American politics, international relations, or political theory. I belong to the minority of comparativists who study environmental politics. Even within that minority, my courses are unusual because they include the United States, bringing a comparativist’s perspective to bear on a country usually considered the domain of Americanists alone.
Designing courses based on my intellectual curiosity, rather than on established templates and canons, enabled me to integrate my identities as teacher and scholar, achieving synergies that facilitated my research while making me a better teacher. My fundamental mission as a teacher is to tell the stories and pose the questions that fascinate me, and in doing so to stimulate similar curiosity in students. My hope is that, long after the specific course content may have receded into the mists of time, they will still be asking certain types of questions about how the world works.
I take an interdisciplinary approach to course design, and my classes -- undergrad and graduate -- attracted students from across campus. I had the pleasure of chairing two Ph.D. committees in Interdisciplinary Ecology and serving on eight others in that field as well as anthropology, sociology, and religion, in addition to six in political science. As a core faculty affiliate for UF's IGERT program in Water, Wetlands, and Watersheds, I worked with four cohorts of graduate fellows, in disciplines ranging from soil and water science to religion. Teaching social-science concepts and modes of analysis to students with diverse aptitudes and knowledge bases, and mostly with little to no social-science background, was a challenging but deeply rewarding learning experience for me. It strengthened my commitment to bridging the communicative divides between the biophysical sciences, social sciences, and humanities that can, all too often, hinder efforts at interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship.
My teaching evaluations at UF were consistently above Departmental and College means, and I was nominated for a College-wide Teaching Award in 2010. My highest scores were typically for “enthusiasm for the subject,” but I also did very well on “respect and concern for students” and “encouragement of independent, creative, and critical thinking,”
During my eleven years at UF, a gratifying number of students credited my courses with inspiring them to pursue environment-related graduate training and professional employment. Former students went on to work for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington; as well as the Everglades Foundation, the Florida Conservation Commission, 1000 Friends of Florida, and the Nature Conservancy in Florida. Others joined the staffs of elected officials, while several pursued environmental law degrees or doctorates.
Selected emails from former students:
"I am now a new professor at Auburn, specializing in human dimensions of natural resources. I wanted to reach out to you and say that without you and your class, there's no way that I would be here today. I credit you and your class, when asked, with my whole career -- no joke." -- Dec. 2019
"I'm happy to say I received the letter today that I've been accepted into UF Law. I'd like to thank you one more time for your classes, which were two of the best ones I had at UF, and are a big reason why I'd like to do environmental law." -- March 2015
"I still hold very fond memories of both the polisci courses I took with you, environmental politics in Florida in particular. I am sure that the knowledge and skills I gained in the course will be transferable to any state and program I ultimately enroll in. I am sure I want to work in environmental law in some capacity and I am confident this passion derived from the course I took with you two years ago." -- Dec. 2015
"Since UF is now in your rear view mirror I was hoping to get your non UF email to keep in touch. You've been a fantastic professor and mentor and I fully intend on keeping up with your awesome endeavors." -- June 2014
"This is to let you know that I was accepted to the M.S. program in Sustainable Design! Thank you for writing a recommendation for me, and more importantly, for teaching with an infectious enthusiasm for sustainability and the policy questions that surround it." -- May 2014
"I am now officially enrolled in the University of Delaware Marine Policy program for the fall term. I'm really excited about this opportunity.... Thank you so much for helping me out this past year trying to figure out my life. I can't begin to tell you how influential your friendship and mentorship has been for me." -- May 2012
"I miss having you as a professor after having a great two semesters of environmental politics. Robbie and I were talking yesterday about how we think you are one of the best professors at UF, and that is now an objective statement since you can't affect our grades any further." -- Oct. 2010
"I'm graduating tomorrow, and I just wanted to let you know that you were one my favorite professors here at UF. Your class first got me interested in environmental politics, and I have come to consider pursuing an occupation in that field." -- May 2009