Alumna Profile

Susan Miller Thomas ’73

Replanting Portland

By Alex Wood ’15

Intoxicated by the scent of cedar and dirt, a flock of Reedies has descended on the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge a few miles from campus. We are here for a day of wildlife restoration sponsored by Reed’s SEEDS (Students for Education, Empowerment, and Direct Service) and led by the director of education for Portland Parks & Recreation, Sue Thomas ’73.

Sporting muddy green rain boots and a worn Portland Parks & Rec sweater, Sue is in her element; she knows every plant on the ground. As she leads the group through the refuge—a wetland park on the east bank of the Willamette River—she points out restoration projects completed by Reedies in years past. 

Today our mission is to plant a flower garden that will provide shelter to the neighborhood birds. As we dig in with shovels and lug wheelbarrows, she explains how the garden fits into the ecology of the park. 

Sue majored in biology at Reed, then earned a teaching degree and a master’s in plant genetics from Oregon State. Now she strives to make Portland greener by teaching students of all ages how to make a positive impact on the environment.

In addition to teaching, she is currently monitoring endangered red-legged frogs and is drawing up guidelines for protecting migratory birds in urban areas.

She attributes her ability to ask meaningful questions to her Reed education. An art history class helped her understand diversity. A class on children’s literature helped her integrate children’s stories into her daily lessons, providing a universal background to more complicated programs about the environment. “I hope students find joy in working on something outside of their own community and will bring their environmental ethic to the rest of the world,” she says.