REED HOME Gryphon icon
Feature Story
reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Growing the Curriculum continued

Keith Karoly

Reed biology professor Keith Karoly conducting controlled crosses with the endangered northwest larkspur, Delphinium leucophaeum.

Photos by Matt D'annunzio

"I'm an eternal optimist," says economics professor Noelwah Netusil, when asked about all the bleak news on climate change. "The scientists will start to get their point across that we really need to fundamentally change our activities. The tide will change."

Reed's ES program is the result of years of careful planning. Trustee Jeff Kenner jumpstarted the process with a gift that allowed the college to bring environmental leaders—including marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco—to campus to share ideas on building an effective program. A group of professors then crafted a proposal, which was approved in principle by the faculty in November 2007. Another faculty committee then hammered out specifics. The faculty took pains to maintain Reed's longstanding tradition of academic rigor and disciplinary depth. Students majoring in ES will pursue the lion's share of their coursework in one of five traditional departments—biology, chemistry, economics, history or political science. The balance of their course work will be structured interdisciplinary studies of environmental themes. That means ES majors will have to satisfy virtually all the requirements of a traditional major in addition to their ES course work.

That makes Reed's program very different from those at many other colleges and universities, which often "just take a sampling of a lot of different subjects," Netusil said. "We rejected that approach."

While the curriculum was being hammered out, the college had to find money to pay for the program. Inspired by the faculty's ambitious plan, several donors (including trustees John Gray and Randy Labbe and the Mellon Foundation) provided crucial support. Indeed, launching ES is one of the most significant achievements of Reed's Centennial Campaign so far. (See sidebar.)

Netusil is on sabbatical this year, but that doesn't mean she's resting. Instead she is working with researchers from several Pacific Northwest universities on a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant comparing Portland with Vancouver, Washington, its urban neighbor just across the Columbia River. The project examines how different urban planning policies in the two cities have led to different environmental outcomes.

In other words, does it really pay to be green? And if so, how much?

Netusil is exploring questions such as whether the quality of riparian corridors in the region, which has a combined population of more than 2 million people, contribute to differences in property values. Given the stagnant housing market, and its drag on the overall economy, it's a question relevant beyond obscure academic journals.

Netusil said the research is "just so much fun," but lamented time away from her students, for whom she reserves most of her energy. Sometimes, in fact, the students have a hard time keeping up. After hosting several of them for dinner at her rural Damascus home in early August, she was disappointed that they left long before the annual Perseid meteor shower's peak viewing time—1 a.m.

Kelsey Lucas

Kelsey Lucas '11: does it pay to be green?

Economics major Kelsey Lucas '11 was one of the students over for dinner that night. The senior from Moraga, California, turned out to be tough to schedule for an interview because she was working two summer jobs. One was at Metro, Portland's elected regional government, where she was building economic models that value open space. The second was at Grand Canyon Trust, where she was putting a price on the benefits—recharging aquifers, slowing runoff, providing fish nursery ponds, and so on—that would come with the reintroduction of beavers to Utah. Busy as a beaver herself, it's no wonder she was too tired to stay for the meteor shower.

Kelsey was an energetic participant, however, in Netusil's 2009 environmental economics class, which included students majoring in a host of other subjects. The class's capstone project: an exhaustive 44-page report that assigns a dollar value to the ecosystem services provided by 10 years of work to restore the beloved Reed canyon, beginning in 1999. (See Further Reading.)

reed magazine logoDecember 2010