Oswald J. "Os" Schmitz

Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology

Teaching Statement

Fundamentally, my teaching is geared toward providing students the quantitative and analytical skills that will support their endeavors to make responsible management decisions when working as professionals in the conservation of biological diversity.  My lecture courses introduce students to concepts related to gathering and applying scientific information for problem solving.  Students learn how to formalize that knowledge using quantitative tools such as demographic modeling and computational ecology.  Whenever possible, I draw in real-world examples to expose students to the numerous applications of the concepts presented in class.  The intention is to instill in students some confidence that the concepts they will use actually can give them a foundation on which to make effective management decisions. At the same time, I hope to give the students a healthy but skeptical respect for science by illustrating both the power and pitfalls of scientific methods as means for gaining reliable knowledge for management applications.  I encourage students to be irreverent. My philosophy behind this is that, much like the process of developing new ways of thinking in science, creative new solutions to environmental problems do not often arise by following the status quo.

I also recognize that the next generation of environmental professionals must participate more comfortably in the electronic information age.  To encourage this, I gear my teaching around the next generation of information technology through web-served assignment. The web-served assignments allow students the freedom to conduct computer simulation experiments using self-directed learning outside of the normal (and somewhat restrictive) confines of a fixed-time classroom or lab setting.  Students can access the material at any time and learn the material covered in the assignments at a pace that is more compatible with their individual learning capabilities.

I teach three lecture courses each dealing with different aspects of conservation science delivered to different audiences.

Ecology and Environmental Problem Solving (introductory undergraduate):  A subject of considerable interest in environmental conservation is whether natural ecosystems are resistant and resilient to natural or human-induced disturbances. That is: How much environmental change can ecosystems tolerate before they become altered and how much disturbance can they withstand before they collapse? Ecology, as a scientific discipline, offers key theory, tools and empirical insights that can be brought to bear on answering important questions about ecosystem sustainability. This course will provide students with the necessary concepts and tools to begin evaluating how ecological populations and communities are structured and how they respond to natural and human-induced perturbations.

Ecosystem Pattern and Process  (graduate and advanced undergraduate): Ecosystem science provides a unique vantage point from which scientists can begin to understand complex adaptive systems. The basis of ecosystem science is to determine how patterns in biological processes emerge from interactions between organisms and the abiotic environment. This course introduces the ecosystem concept, investigates the structure and functioning of ecological systems, studies the response of systems to changing environmental conditions, and applies resulting knowledge to preservation and management issues. Presentation is balanced between terrestrial and marine/aquatic systems.

Wildlife Conservation Ecology (graduate and advanced undergraduate): This course introduces the student to concepts and mathematical tools related to gathering and applying scientific information to problem solving in wildlife conservation. The course explores conceptually the kinds of ecological knowledge needed for wildlife conservation. Students also learn how to formalize that knowledge for effective decision-making. Relevance to real-world problem solving is the central focus of the course and students are exposed to numerous examples of applications throughout the term.