Tag Archives: Washington State University

The ongoing adventures of an enviro reporter

I recently spent an afternoon with Eric Sorensen, former science writer for the Seattle Times who now works for the Washington State University News Bureau.

As we drove up and down the back roads of the Kitsap Peninsula, I showed Eric some of my favorite places, and I dredged through my memory banks for stories I’ve covered through the years. I found myself babbling nonstop, talking about one environmental issue after another, trying to tie together the geography and history of our peninsula.

Somehow, Eric was able to create a nice biographical story about me from our discussion and his review of my stories. You can read his piece, titled “Bearing witness to the sights and smells of our soggy backyard,” in WSU’s alumni publication “Washington State Magazine.”

His story begins, “If you cover the waterfront the way Chris Dunagan does, you have to expect a fair amount of smells. There’s the fresh, tangy scent of estuary and the mild musk of beach wrack. There’s the stench of rotting shellfish during the great Oyster Rescue of 2010 and the outsized rot of a beached gray whale….”

It seems Eric had some fun with this story, even if my reputation as a smelly type of reporter needed no help. Anyway, I think he did a wonderful job of capturing some of my adventures.

I found a brief bio and humorous photo of Eric in an announcement of a talk he was giving journalism students at the University of Idaho, just across the state line from WSU.

Eric has captured many wonderful stories related to the research and personalities of folks associated with WSU. You can find a list of his recent work on this search page of “Washington State Magazine.”

When “Washington State Magazine” went online, he wrote a thoughtful “Dear Reader” piece about magazines, the art of reading and the flow of information. Thanks to the Internet version of the magazine, anyone can read Eric’s story about me.

UW and WSU try to integrate environmental programs

Washington state’s two largest universities are struggling to reorganize their natural resources departments into ways that make sense in the modern world. It has been argued that the way universities structure their studies can influence scientific thinking and political actions across the state.

These recent initiatives are borne out of a recognition that environmental sciences have connections across the various disciplines. Forestry, aquatic resources, hydrology, oceanography, wildlife ecology, marine biology and so on have been specialties in themselves for many years. In the real world, however, these areas of study no longer stand alone, if they ever did.

The University of Washington Board of Regents recently approved a new College of the Environment, but it remains just a shell of an idea at this time.

Washington State University is going through an even larger reorganization that could consolidate departments across the entire campus.

Brian Boyle, former commissioner of public lands, suggests that the UW needs a new institute, not a new college. As he suggests in Tuesday’s CrossCut magazine:

The UW could have much more influence on how the region and nation address environmental issues through science by creating institutes for Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences…. This could be done by creating a virtual environment, with porous walls, for teaching, research, outreach, and collaboration that involves every person at the UW with expertise in environmental interactions.

Whoever says collaboration has to take place in the same room, the same building, the same college, hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in bioengineering, nanotechnology, surgery, or even Facebook.

Exploring these possibilities would be better than just rearranging boxes on organizational charts and demoting existing academic units. Done right, with all 400 faculty and 50 programs able to play a role, a UW Center for Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences could be a flexible reflection of the multidisciplinary approach of the new century, rather than a recapitulation of old models and old failures.

At WSU, a new Provost report calls for a major restructuring of the entire university course program. According to a news release issued in May, the report calls for the creation of an “area” focused on environmental sustainability. To start with, it would include resources from the School of Earth and Environmental Science, the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and the Department of Community and Rural Sociology.

“In some areas, structures have been created that no longer make sense in an era where both research and teaching are increasingly interdisciplinary,” WSU Provost and Executive Vice President Robert Bates said in the news release.

It seems Boyle’s idea may already be part of the thinking at WSU, but it may need further investigation.

Check out the full report on WSU’s Web site.