Charles G. Curtin (PhD)Core Faculty
Department of Environmental Studies
At its core my classroom teaching philosophy is that one needs intrinsically interesting and important material to engage students and if the information meets this goal -- the class will essentially carry itself. This may seem obvious, but there has been a trend toward using technology or teaching gimmicks instead of deep understanding of the discipline and careful selection of the most relevant materials to carry the class. To this end my classes consist of little formal lecturing, but are essentially extended seminars with an emphasis on student presentations, critical review of material, and class discussion. The emphasis is on the primary literature and understanding the origin of ideas, but also on presentation skills and writing effectively. As practioners as well as scholars our students need to be grounded in the underlying principles (and often theory) to be effective and it is to this end that I always try and bring in foundational concepts, as well as common sense elements of practice.
But the classroom is only a piece of the equation. As graduate students I see their greatest learning occurring outside formal classroom settings. At the doctoral and masters levels systems thinking, complexity and sustainability science, and collaborative and place-based approaches are unifying themes that run throughout our programs and the primary means by which to achieve trans-disciplinary synthesis in theory and practice. In 2009 I co-founded the “Sand Box” to engage masters students in a weekly seminar to delve deeper into questions of collaborative conservation and resource management. In 2010 we developed the “Resilience Design Group” to link PhD students with an interest in applying complexity and resilience-based approaches. We are using of Adobe Connect to increase communication and action when the students are off campus, while raising the overall profile of the program.
A third emphasis is on scholarship. It is not enough to complete research or conservation projects; the results must be shared with a wider audience to be most effective including lessons from both successes and failures. Practitioners and researchers alike have a civic responsibility to communicate what they learn. Becoming an effective communicator is also consistent with Antioch’s mission in serving as catalysts for change. This does not need to be in a major peer-review journal, but can also include talks and even documentaries and other popular media. The point is that science and management are about learning and evolving. We as a society cannot afford to waste valuable time and energy reinventing the wheel by not communicating with others the results of our experience. While from a practical perspective most jobs in environmental disciplines, including applied areas, expect publications. I push my students to publish their work and to engage in advocating for change based on their research and practical experience. I practice what I preach by publishing books and articles myself across a range of disciplines, often with students and junior colleagues. This keeps me current in recent trends in publications and the process of transferring ideas to products which is important because research and writing, like any other skill, must continually be practiced and applied to remain competent. This also serves my personal goal of making my science relevant to audiences beyond Antioch and New England. To this end I continue to collaborate with colleagues in the intermountain West and overseas in East Africa and the Middle East on transboundary conservation programs that promote “over-the-horizon” learning between diverse ecosystems and cultures -- These connections providing additional opportunities for student research and experience.
Given this focus on publications and public service there is also an emphasis on working in the field. In addition to traditional advising of student thesis and projects, I am also working to developed “Synergy Programs.” These are integrated research and conservation projects designed to build on evolving areas of interest around science and community-based programs in what I call “conservation cooperatives.” These are community-based programs that work toward local capacity building that generates the preconditions for effective, sustainable conservation and science. Here we do not just study sustainability, we actively undertake it through active student and faculty engagement in the process. Two current examples are the establishment of the North Island Science Collaborative on North Haven Island, Maine. This center is designed to take advantage of interest and support for restoration of anadromous fish including alewife and smelt that have triple bottom line benefits to the community of improving ecosystem health, while having economic and social advantages. Associated programs include studies of sea-level rise and changes in near-shore environments. This program also includes terrestrial studies such as building energy independence through developing firebreaks and undertaking landscape restoration that provide wood to low income or fixed-income families. Closer to Keene we are forming a cooperative between local farmers in the southern Contoocook Valley, with masters and doctoral students alike engaged in collaborative programs exploring how to generate durable approaches to change in rural landscapes. These programs ask basic conservation and theoretical questions, while allowing for more direct engagement with the community and experimentation in large-scale ecosystem renewal.