Teaching provides a unique opportunity to influence individuals and, through the future work of these individuals, one’s discipline. Teaching should open students to new ideas and prepare them to think critically and innovatively; it should likewise engender those same responses in the instructor. Today’s students, more diverse with respect to age, experience, and prior education than in previous generations, demand relevancy. My teaching is meant to challenge students to apply basic concepts in new ways to solve real problems. I believe foundation courses should develop generalists familiar with a broad spectrum of natural resource issues and having a solid understanding of the biophysical and social sciences. Advanced courses should increase depth within a student’s chosen discipline, promote further exploration of the linkages among disciplines, and prepare future managers and researchers to think creatively and at differing spatial and temporal scales about problems and issues.
The teaching philosophy to which I adhere mirrors that which I have found, both as a student and teacher, to effectively prepare future professionals for addressing increasingly complex problems in a rapidly changing world. The breadth of knowledge and interdisciplinary approach I experienced while a student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies prepared me for tackling a Ph.D. research topic that was multidisciplinary and for which there was at that time no precedent to use as a model. I strongly believe an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to natural resource education is the best way to prepare students to manage public and privately-owned lands, and to decrease the widening gap between land managers and scientists.
Courses I currently teach include forest (stand) dynamics, fire science and policy, invasive species issues, and forest health. I also co-teach a course in alpine, arctic, and boreal ecosystems. In my stand dynamics course I focus on imparting a solid understanding of the basic ecological concepts underlying forest development. I use fieldtrips and lectures to illustrate site-specific examples from a variety of ecosystems. Papers and projects provide opportunities for innovative thinking and the creative application of basic concepts. Forest health looks at biotic and abiotic stressors of forest ecosystems at multiple scales – spatial, temporal, and on a continuum of management intensity. Fire science and policy explores the role of fire in biological and social systems; students are also provide opportunities for using fire to achieve management objectives in our school forest and elsewhere. In all my courses I stress the importance of critical thinking and precise writing.
From my teaching experience at the Aetna Institute for Corporate Education, Yale, the University of Washington, and professional-level short courses, I strongly believe understanding derives from applying one’s knowledge toward solving specific problems. Case studies are one method I’ve found very effective for allowing students to integrate knowledge from different disciplines in creatively assessing a variety of issues. I believe that communication skills are of paramount importance to natural resource professionals and provide many opportunities for students to communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing, with continuous improvement being the goal.