Search Google Appliance

Freshman Inquiry: Sustainability

There is growing evidence that human activity is significantly transforming the natural systems that sustain us. Although we may often think of the natural world as something separate from our largely urban lives, our most basic needs such as nutritious food to eat, clean air to breathe, and clean water to drink depend on the health of the natural systems of which we are a part. The focus of this course will be on exploring the possibility of maintaining a sustainable relationship between human communities and the natural world. To investigate this question we will explore the interconnectedness of global systems (including physical, ecological, cultural, social, and economic).

We will begin in fall term by focusing on natural systems and how they are affected by human activity. In winter we explore how different social and cultural systems, both past and present, interact with and influence their natural surroundings. We conclude in spring by taking a critical look at how cultural, economic, and political traditions shape our relationship to the natural world, including how the human relationship to nature is understood, the ways economic well-being is measured, and how terms such as "sustainability" and "green" are used in the media, by interest groups, organizations, and constituents.

Throughout the course students will be encouraged to read and research widely on these issues, report on their findings, participate actively in discussions, and develop a deeper sense of responsibility for their own habits and choices.

discover research
discover internships
discover your peers



J. R. Estes

Jeff Fletcher is a system scientist and theoretical biologist. His academic interests include how cooperation and altruism evolve, how scientific modeling fits into the scientific method, how general theories (e.g. game theory, evolution theory, and chaos theory) help us understand complex societal problems such as sustainability; and how best to help students of all ages understand and appreciate systems concepts. He recently completed a National Science Foundation International Research Fellowship at the University of British Columbia Zoology Department, including field studies on “social” spiders in Brazil. He has a PhD in Systems Science, a Masters in Computer Science, and Bachelors in Biology. To relax, Jeff enjoys kayaking, hiking, yoga, biking, and learning more about life’s simple joys while spending time with his wife and toddler son.

Jeff Gerwing is an ecologist with a specialty in forest ecology and sustainable forest management. Dr. Gerwing has studied the impacts of logging on forest ecosystems in the Brazilian Amazon where he developed an interest in Brazilian music and culture. He is currently collaborating on the development of forest ecosystem restoration projects for the MT. Hood National Forest that balance environmental, social, and economic goals. Dr. Gerwing has recently moved into the Columbia Ecovillage co-housing community where he enjoys working in the gardens and repairing neighbor’s bicycles.

Betty Izumi PH.D., M.P.H., R.D. is Assistant Professor in the School of Community Health. After completing an R.D. and M.P.H. at the University of California, Berkeley, Betty earned her Ph.D. at Michigan State University. Her areas of interest include sustainability, nutrition, the built environment, community-based food systems, health disparities and community-based participatory research. In addition to FRINQ, Betty teaches Public Health Nutrition and Food System Sustainability. Before coming to PSU she was a Research Fellow with the Kellogg Health Scholars Program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Betty has also served as an Assistant Professor of Family and Community Development at Oregon State University. In her spare time, she likes to run, hike, swim, garden, cook, and spend time with her family.

Ben Perkins is a geologist, environmental scientist, and outdoor enthusiast. His primary research interest is exploring how geology and human activities control the occurrence of problematic trace elements such as arsenic and chromium in surface and ground waters. Ben holds a BS and MS in geology and received his Ph.D. in environmental sciences and resources from Portland State University. He has taught geology courses at Portland State University, Portland Community College, and Washington State University. He worked for eight years as a professional environmental consultant, much of that time in the Willamette Valley. Most recently, he was a postdoctoral fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. His wife has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. They both enjoy hiking and camping, gardening, cooking, music, and travel.

Robert Scheller is a forest ecologist who studies how forested landscape have changed and will change in the future due to climate change, wildfires, logging, and other forces. Robert is also interested in understanding how we can create sustainable landscapes and the natural, economic, and social challenges to doing so. Robert received his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and enjoys all of the many rich amenities found in and around Portland, both natural and social.