Simon Queenborough - Connecting New Haven to the Tropics

Simon Queenborough – Connecting New Haven to the Tropics

The recent addition of Simon Queenborough to the F&ES faculty team is a major windfall for current and future students here at the School of Forestry.  In addition to his new position as lecturer and researcher at F&ES, Dr. Queenborough has come on board as the new director of the Tropical Resources Institute.  This diversity of roles means that students with a variety of backgrounds and interests will have the opportunity to interact with and learn from this dynamic new instructor.

This spring, Dr. Queenborough will kick off his course offerings with an introduction to tropical ecology.  As a field-based course, it will spend the two weeks of spring break in the tropics, where students will benefit directly from Dr. Queenborough’s extensive field experience and interactive teaching style.  Field sites will alternate each spring between Ecuador, where Dr. Queenborough has worked extensively, and Panama, where his co-teacher, Dr. Liza Comita, has done her research.  The class is intended to give participants coming from a variety of backgrounds exposure to the fundamentals of tropical ecology and the applied skills of field research.  It will cover a range of topics, including plant identification, basic ecology, and an introduction to the socio-economic dynamics of the local communities.  While in the country, students will participate in research projects, and then back in New Haven, they will have the opportunity to assess, write up, and present their findings.

Starting in the fall of next year, Dr. Queenborough will be offering a seminar for Master’s students.  The focus will likely alternate each year.  The first of two topics will be an introduction to R statistical software; an extensively used free software for statistical computing and graphing.  An alternative offering may be a paper seminar, in which students tap into existing data sets to find answers to new questions.  This latter course would allow students to access established, high quality data sets while challenging them to draw new and insightful information from them beyond the original intent.  The exact offerings and class size will depend on student demand.

Dr. Queenborough believes strongly in active learning.  He doesn’t like to stand behind a lectern, pontificating at students.  Rather, he expects his students to come to class familiar with the material and prepared to contribute.  He often uses a “flipped classroom” model of instruction, in which lecture materials are posted online prior to class, and the time in the classroom is then used to work through problems.  Dr. Queenborough’s own research draws heavily from his field work and on quantitative assessments, and he places a high value on such experience and skills for his students, as well.

The focus of Dr. Queenborough’s energy at the moment, however, has been the Tropical Resources Institute, a center dedicated to supporting student research in tropical environments.  Each year, TRI offers up to $5,000 in fellowship funding to 20 – 30 first year F&ES students for their summer field work conducting problem-oriented, interdisciplinary research in tropical regions across the globe.  However, TRI’s relationship with students extends well beyond simply that of an anonymous donor.  Through the center, students are offered a first-hand experience at the full research process.  This starts by writing a professional research proposal, which is edited and reviewed by the TRI advisory board.  Students make their own arrangements for their work in the field, conducting independent research supported by in-country collaborators.  Upon returning to New Haven in the fall, fellows go through the whole process of writing up their findings and submitting their manuscript for review, editing, and eventually publishing for the extensive TRI global audience.  Many of these papers go on to be published in scientific journals.  In addition, Dr. Queenborough and his team offer students as much help as they want, through workshops on grant and paper writing, and individual mentoring.

Dr. Queenborough’s interactive, experiential-based teaching style offers students an exciting new avenue to connect to the tropics during their time here in New Haven.  He will begin advising MESc and MEM students next year, and he is excited to take on students with field experience in the tropical regions of the world and who hope to continue their work or research in those parts of the world.