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June 6, 2007
Jen Huntleysmith has always been excited about teaching and learning, particularly when it comes to the environment.
Although she's a humanities person, having spent time as an instructor in the Core Humanities Program, fulltime visiting professor in the Department of History and coordinator of academics and outreach for the Academy for the Environment, she's clearly emblematic of a new type of multi-disciplinary humanities faculty member who can stand with equal confidence in the world of science.
When she came to Nevada in the late 1990s, she already possessed a master's degree in education from Lewis & Clark University. She subsequently earned her master's and doctorate from Nevada in environmental history and historical archeology.
Who better, then, to be named to the Academy for the Environment's position of associate director for academics and outreach. Mike Collopy, executive director of the Academy for the Environment, says that Huntleysmith's unique skill set made her the obvious choice last month when she was formally named to the position.
"Jen has a very clear understanding of what the academy is trying to do," Collopy says. "She can see the direct relationship the academy has with this region -– how it's a natural thing for our students to want to learn more about the environment and perhaps even pursue a career in an environmental field."
Huntleysmith, who received her doctorate from Nevada in 2000, says the academy is also serving to better coordinate faculty effort in research and other forms of environmental scholarship. Her interest in interdisciplinary perspectives on the environment stem from her work as an environmental historian of the American west, with particular interest in technology and culture.
Huntleysmith is currently collaborating with ethnographer Kate Berry in the Department of Geography on 19th-century Hawaiian water law, informed by Pacific Rim and Science, Technology, and Society studies and funded through a National Science Foundation grant. Her forthcoming work, "Making a Scene: Yosemite, James Mason Hutchings, and the Creation of California Landscapes, 1855-1906)" will be released by the University Press of Kansas in 2008 and expands upon her dissertation to explore the intersection between landscape imagery, developments in media technology and tourism in Yosemite during the second half of the 19th century.
In addition, in more than 15 years of teaching at the University level, Huntleysmith has developed and taught several interdisciplinary courses.
For Huntleysmith, it all adds up to a deep knowledge and understanding of the unique partnerships and potential collaborations on the Nevada campus.
"That's what really fires me up about the Academy for the Environment," she says. "We have so many amazingly talented faculty working in environmental studies on our campus. And yet ... in some cases we don't even know each other.
"If through the academy we can get a cohort of faculty who can work together and help each other with research, teaching or outreach, (the environment) can became part of our university's identity. It's a hidden treasure, and I would love for this program to become what the University of Nevada is all about."
Although her appointment only began last month, Huntleysmith has been involved with the Academy for the Environment almost from its inception.
She can remember when the proposal for the academy was unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate on April 22, 2004 (Earth Day), and what the expectations of the academy's campus proponents have been.
Even before that important moment, she can recall conversations with many of the campus' environmental studies leaders – individuals such as Elizabeth Raymond in the Department of History, Scott Slovic in English, Glenn Miller in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, and Scott Tyler of Geological Sciences – which led to the multi-disciplinary approach taken by the Academy for the Environment.
"One of the central ideas behind the academy was the notion that we could have a hand in producing students who can communicate broadly and understand environmental issues," she says. "It was the right idea at the right time. The idea received really good support. The central administration supported it, and Mike Collopy became the director."
Then, Huntley-smith smiled.
"That's how I got to know Mike ... debating with him during those first few meetings," she says.
Collopy says Huntleysmith's impact has already been felt. She was one of the leaders of last year's 100th anniversary celebration of legendary Nevada Professor J.E. Church's development of snow science in the Sierra. The effort earned news headlines throughout the region and the country.
She has since been one of the prime players in the development of the academy's new undergraduate and interdisciplinary degree program.
"Jen has guided many discussions with faculty, students and future employers regarding the structure and offerings in this new major," Collopy says. "We now have a very flexible program for students seeking a second major to supplement their department major. This opportunity can be pursued either as a double major with B.A. or B.S. degree or as a dual concurrent degree (the student's major leads to both a B.A. and B.S. degree.
"She's very fluent in communicating about the curriculum. Through her experience with Core Humanities, she has a firm grasp of what excites students about learning and what doesn't. She gets very excited about our potential – and that's something we're always looking to export, whether it's to our students, our faculty, or the community."
Huntleysmith says more than ever before, the study of the environment is critical to society, and is also one of the ways the University can brand itself differently from other institutions of similar size, not only in the West, but throughout the country.
"There's clearly a need for people who understand science, and who can communicate it," she says. "Our students and faculty have a great opportunity. We're close to the mountains, and to Lake Tahoe. This is such a beautiful place to live and work. Talk about having a great outdoor laboratory. Couple that with a talented faculty ... all of these are strengths that can make this a really cool part of our identity."