Meet two ENR Students

Audrey Plenty-Hoops, a student in the Environment and Natural Resources’ Capstone Course at UW, said she could not have imagined that her final learning experience would be to write an actual Environmental Assessment (EA). Audrey is on the Vegetation team for the class EA, and while she has focused her prior coursework on studying natural resources and­ systems, through the Capstone Course, she and her peers are tackling a real environmental problem and issue unprecedented in forestry management, the bark beetle epidemic that has ravaged forests across the Intermountain West. Audrey said she is especially interested in studying the long-term impacts of the bark beetle infestation on trees and vegetation, with a particular interest in the changes in soils.

Audrey is a Native American who grew up on the Crow Agency in Montana. She is a nontraditional student at UW, a single mother in her senior year of college. She transferred to UW after attending the Little Big Horn College on the reservation, where she took courses in education. Audrey is currently a double-major in Agroecology/Plant Sciences and Environment and Natural Resources. She said it was through a summer opportunity participating in UW’s Science, Technology, and Mathematics program, conducting field research and mentoring high school students, that she realized she was most interested in science. Through an outreach course on genetics taught by UW’s Dr. Ann Sylvester, professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, Audrey was exposed to all UW has to offer in the sciences and to its strength in applied research, as a land-grant institution. Since transferring to UW, Audrey has focused on learning about water resources, with an emphasis on water quality.

“Learning about the water sampling methods and working outside in the river and nature, I realized I wanted to foster a relationship with nature through my career,” she said. As a result, Audrey has continued her fieldwork with Dr. Sylvester. “The issues and projects we are working on are really important,” she said.

To conquer the challenges of the course requirements, ENR students must have an interest in the issues they study, she said. “The way we were taught in the lower-level courses, through reading, analyzing, and writing, has kept us focused on learning about environmental science, and … we are learning from instructors, professionals, and experts from various fields while in the outdoors,” she said.

“ENR’s strength is in exposing students to the environment and natural resource issues and providing them with the ability to gain a better understanding of natural systems, and therefore form a relationship with earth,” she said. Audrey’s interest in soils science peaked after taking Agroecology, a course taught in the ENR program by Dr. Larry Munn, professor in the Department of Renewable Resources. “I enjoy everything about soils. I work around rivers a lot, and soils are a big part of resource quality issues in our ecosystems,” she said. Audrey’s student learning experience and applied field research, through the Capstone Course and other courses at UW, has had an impact on her career path. She hopes to continue to study soil science and other natural resources systems, and pursue the interests she has gained at UW.

Another student of the Capstone Course, who also plans to pursue a career in natural resources, but with an emphasis on agricultural economics, is Darlington Sabasi. Darlington is from Zimbabwe and is a second-year UW graduate student pursuing a master’s of science degree in Agribusiness and Environment and Natural Resources. In 1982, his father began a horticultural farm business in Zimbabwe, which allowed Darlington to gain first-hand knowledge of crop production and export. One thing he noted while working on the family farm was the need to better improve crop-marketing practices. As a result, as an undergraduate student at African University in Zimbabwe, he turned his focus to crop markets and pricing. In 2007, he was presented with an opportunity to study at the university level in Michigan. This experience provided him with an even greater interest in the environment and natural resources. It was about the same time that he learned about UW’s ENR and its graduate degree program. The program was a good fit for Darlington with his interests in agricultural markets and environment and natural resources.

“As a person who has always followed global resource and climate change issues, particularly through the United Nations, I saw that all industries are affected by environmental challenges and policies,” Darlington said.  He credits the Capstone Course with both broadening and deepening his understanding of the scope of environmental policy, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in particular, especially as it serves as a guidance process for informing the writing of the class EA document.

Darlington is a member of the Economics team for the class EA.  He is interested in researching the potential impacts of forest management practices on reusing beetle-killed timber for biofuels. With his background in economics, he has been asking a number of questions for his team, such as how significant will the biofuel energy production be from the trees harvested, and will people be able to rely on this particular source of fuel in order to meet a portion of their energy needs in the future? And what are the implications for the potential benefits of biofuel energy and electrical energy that might be derived from the harvesting and reuse of beetle-kill timber?  Darlington considers himself a pragmatist. He is considering getting a PhD in Agribusiness. Ultimately, using the knowledge of markets and marketing practices based on his graduate research, Darlington plans to return to Zimbabwe to pursue his career goals. He said that, initially on a local scale, he plans to create an agribusiness company focused on the production and exportation of tomatoes, cabbage, and onions. Starting locally, he said, will allow him to raise capital in order to enter the international market. After five years generating revenue at the local level, he said he plans to then work to buy more assets, upgrade equipment and technologies to meet the increasingly rigorous international standards, and then enter into the international market.

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