Interim Director’s Message: Summer 2017

High summer in Seattle: blue skies, cool breezes, roses in the rose garden. How did we get here so fast? Seems like a moment ago I was writing you with “hello,” and now we’ve progressed through winter and spring quarters and are already midway through summer. What’s kept me so busy?

The glorious, redolent rose garden around Drumheller Foundation.

SEFS is a wonderful school and has shown me in a variety of ways just what we are about. My favorite learning spot has been the “SEFS 15 Minutes” opportunities I introduced during faculty meetings. Faculty had mentioned they hungered for in-person conversation about issues affecting our community, and I thought devoting time in faculty meetings for this discussion would be an ideal way for me to learn who and what SEFS is—and for all of us to discern which direction SEFS wants to go with a new director.

At first, I invited faculty attending the January 24 meeting to list up to three issues they wanted to discuss on a card, collected and sorted the issues, and shared the outcome. Next, I met with the SEFS Elected Faculty Council for a probing, hour-long discussion of the main issues facing SEFS, and how best to elicit productive conversation among faculty. I seeded the first “SEFS 15” with: “What questions in environmental and forest sciences would you like to address with your research?” This conversation proved difficult for a number of reasons: The question was stilted, faculty wondered whether to answer for themselves or for SEFS as a whole, and the practice of thinking out loud in faculty meetings was unfamiliar. But the first stumbling try gave way to a soaring second, seeded by a rephrasing of the first question: “What BIG questions do you want to address …?”

With me at the chalkboard recording faculty suggestions, a picture of SEFS emerged with everyone’s contributions, showing a coherent and passionate mission for developing and conveying knowledge about how best to understand, utilize and conserve our landscape environment. I believe we all walked away from that meeting feeling part of a larger whole, enthusiastic about pushing forward. Since then, faculty meetings have dealt with a number of issues, including the value (and description) of “Interest Groups” in SEFS, a Faculty Salary Plan requested by Provost Jerry Baldasty, and finally our searches for five open faculty positions.

Our most recent faculty meeting, held last week as a special session since we are in summer, vibrantly summed the progress we’ve made this year as we discussed our search for a new SEFS Director. In June we hosted three candidates who interviewed and enthused us with their and our visions of the future. This energy, and a wish to be a concerted group sure of its momentum and purpose, shined through a thoughtful discussion that included disagreements, points of information, and gradual agreements. The eve of a leadership change is always an exciting and anxious time, and we could potentially reach a final decision about the next director within a few weeks.

I’m also looking forward to at least one more “SEFS 15” discussion during the school’s annual retreat this September. We will welcome everyone back, from field research, travels to meetings and holiday, and also new graduate students, staff and faculty. We’ll focus our attention on the SEFS Graduate Program, as it is surely the grads who carry out most of the research conducted in SEFS. How best can we select, guide, fund and promote our grads? If we consider their work as the forefront of all of our efforts, we must all work to support their mission.

As always, I welcome your input and look forward to learning more about SEFS every day.

Liz Van Volkenburgh
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences