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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Growing the Curriculum continued

Jenny Leonard

Jenny Leonard '09 planted endangered larkspur at various locations around Portland to see if the flower might be reintroduced in an area where it once thrived.

Photo by Keith Karoly

"Eventually someone came along and tore up all those tracks and paved over them and made them into roads," she said. "But this history, I think, should be very encouraging to people; it means that it could be done again."

Venit-Shelton, who is teaching a new course on food, is best known among students for her popular class on the environmental history of the American West, which covers topics such as the destruction of the bison, the legacy of mining, and the ongoing political conflict about water.

That conflict continues to this day. In February a historic agreement among fisherman, farmers, environmentalists, and Native American groups was signed to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The agreement, which came after years of wrangling, was hailed by some as the largest salmon and river restoration project in American history.

Two years ago, political science major Adrienne Lane '11 traveled to the Klamath Basin to interview local residents touched by the conflict, a shoe-leather reporting part of a class in water governance.

Let's pause here for a fact that is beyond dispute: people in the Klamath Basin will need to use less water if the salmon are to be saved.

But Adrienne learned that what's clear in a classroom becomes muddled when you visit a small town and listen to longtime residents talk about what it's like to have their lives inextricably linked to a dwindling resource—a fate, it's reasonable to guess, that will be increasingly common in the years ahead.

"You wind up feeling compelled by everyone's story; it's not like: 'This person's right, this person's wrong,'" says Adrienne, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio. "It's complicated, and that's the problem. When resources are scarce, that creates conflict, and though it's important to try to mitigate conflict, there never will be a perfect solution."

Which of course doesn't mean that Reedies will stop trying. One way is by training ES students in emerging academic fields.

Supporting Reed’s Mission

The new Environmental Studies program is a prime example of the far-reaching impact of Reed's Centennial Campaign, launched last year with a goal of raising $200 million by the end of 2012. So far, donors (including many readers of this magazine) have contributed almost $146 million, enabling the college to make some dramatic accomplishments.

In keeping with Reed's tradition of academic excellence, a key goal of the campaign is to add twelve new faculty positions to achieve a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. These positions will strengthen small departments, reduce chronic over-enrollments, and meet curricular needs in environmental studies, computer science, performing arts, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and linguistics. So far, six of these positions have been funded or partially funded, including three in performing arts, two in environmental studies, and one in bioinformatics.

"Because close interactions between faculty and students are essential components of a Reed education, these new faculty positions are crucially important," says Dean of Faculty Ellen Stauder. "We are deeply appreciative of the contributions that make it possible to hire vibrant, engaged faculty members in positions that strengthen and extend our curricular offerings."

Since Reed professors are both teachers and scholars, and since Reedies learn best by doing, the campaign also aims to add $15 million to the endowment to support faculty and student research. So far, donors have contributed $11 million towards this end.

The campaign also seeks to achieve many other goals, from more financial aid for needy students to deeper engagement with alumni.

To find out more about how the Centennial Campaign will strengthen Reed and to make a gift, visit

Adrienne spent the summer working on a research project with ES committee member Alexander Montgomery-Amo, assistant professor of political science. She surveyed recent scholarship in international environmental politics, a field that didn't even have its own academic journal until 2001, when Montgomery-Amo was wrapping up his PhD at Stanford. The results will help shape a class on the subject that Montgomery-Amo will teach this spring, and should lead to an academic publication for Adrienne, who is considering law schools and other graduate programs.

Montgomery-Amo, whose work mostly focuses on nuclear proliferation, is standing in while the college gears up to hire its third new faculty member for the program, an environmental political scientist.

"It means that I have to stay on top of things," he chuckles, as he looked ahead to the spring course. Not that Mongtomery-Amo, who holds a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in energy and resources from Berkeley, is cowed by the challenge. "This is one of the benefits of a program like this. When students cross disciplines it means professors have to cross disciplines, too."

This spring another Reed professor will, in all likelihood, be crossing muddy fields with his eyes trained on the ground. That's what Karoly was doing a few months ago when he came across a truly astonishing sight.

Two years ago, one of Karoly's thesis students, Jenny Leonard '09, planted endangered larkspur at various locations around Portland to see if the flower might be reintroduced in an area where it once thrived. The following spring and summer, she went back into the field and reported that many of the seedlings had flowered at Canemah Bluffs, south of Oregon City.

Karoly has kept his eye on the site since then. This spring he noticed seedlings—the first offspring from Jenny's initial planting.

"It's the first time anybody has tried to establish populations of this endangered species in the wild," said Karoly, whose web site includes photos of the flower and hand-drawn pictures made by his children. "So it was kind of an exciting thing that gave me optimism that we might be able to find other sites in the Portland area that could support populations of this species."

Around the corner in his lab, rows of seedlings waited next to a CD by a band named "TV on the Radio." The title of the CD, Dear Science, seemed to make the scene complete.

However, like most stories about the environment, this one is not finished. Ever the careful researcher, Karoly was quick to qualify the field result, pointing out that it was too early to say that this new patch will persist at the site for several generations.

"Still, for now," he said with some obvious satisfaction, "they have survived."

Geoff Koch is a Portland-based science writer.

Further Reading

reed magazine logoDecember 2010