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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Growing the Curriculum continued

"It was a great class, with such a good group of people coming from disciplines—economics, political science, anthropology, chemistry, and biology—that all are so important to dealing with the environment," she said. "Plus, it was just a really fun project."

The canyon restoration involved tearing out blackberry bushes, removing the 1930s-era concrete swimming pool and installing a fish ladder at Reed Lake. All told, these efforts yielded about $15 million in benefits in terms of improved water and air quality, wildlife habitat and recreation, the students found. That's a pretty good return on an investment of $1.5 million (provided by generous donors, Reed, foundations and government grants).

Chemistry major Claire Remington '11 took the same class and worked with Kelsey on the final project, which is perhaps a good preview of what's to come from the new ES program. Constrained by time and with no budget, much of the students' work involved reviewing various official reports and published research. Claire, however, went to the canyon to gather data firsthand. Using a detector borrowed from Portland State, she took measurements of various pollutants and greenhouse gases—nitrogen oxides, particulates, and carbon dioxide—and found them all to be lower in proximity to the canyon.

Though she claims Madison, Wisconsin, as her permanent home, Claire mostly grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, where her parents do relief and development work. She came to Reed convinced she was going to follow in their footsteps, but somewhere along the way became enthralled by chemistry.

Claire loved the dialogue in Netusil's class, but said that during long discussions of various political science and economic perspectives, she would occasionally want to blurt out: "No, no. This is what the ozone molecule looks like, this is the way it works, and I think that makes everything clear."

In all likelihood Claire will seek guidance on her senior thesis from Julie Fry, an assistant professor of chemistry and one of the new faculty members hired for the program.

While Claire was sweating it out at home for a Wisconsin summer that USA Today reported as being "much warmer than normal," Fry shivered through the coldest night of her life in a red snowcat nearly 2,000 miles north of Reed. It was one of Fry's more memorable experiences from her work as a visiting researcher in the Juneau Icefield Research Program, which has maintained the longest running study of any glacier in the Western Hemisphere.

Josh Katz Josh Katz

Chemistry major Josh Katz '12 and chemistry professor Julie Fry investigate glaciers in Alaska in a snowcat dubbed "Reed North."

Photos courtesy of Julie Fry

Fry was collecting data to help understand how pollution travels over long distances, a fact of life given the increasing industrialization of developing nations around the world. The work involved so much time in the snowcat that she and chemistry student Josh Katz '12 dubbed the battered vehicle "Reed North."

Back in her office in the second week of class, Fry was working late preparing for the next day's chemistry lecture. She turned away from her PowerPoint slides to pour another cup of coffee from her thermos and talk about why she tries to balance research and policy work.

"We all want to change the world; we succeed to greater and lesser degrees, but I think, we need to at least be cognizant of that motivation," she said, laughing at what she labeled as her own hubris. "I would have loved to have taken a program like what we're developing with environmental studies at Reed, because I think what we're trying to do is give students the tools to do just that, to change things for the better."

It's a sentiment shared by assistant professor of history Tamara Venit-Shelton, the second new environmental studies faculty member who stresses to students how her field is the study of choices.

"Nothing is predetermined," she said, reached by phone at a conference of the American Historical Association in the Bay Area. "Human actors have agency and are always able to make changes."

As an example, Venit-Shelton points to her hometown of Los Angeles. Today known for gridlocked traffic, the city once had a thriving public transportation network. In 1940, more than 7,000 people per mile boarded streetcars running on the Los Angeles Railway's busiest route, according to one estimate.

reed magazine logoDecember 2010