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A Sense of Place

Environmental Humanities take root at the University of Utah

by Vanessa Chang

When it comes to studying the environment, most folks tend to focus on the sciences. Ecology, geology, and biology all currently thrive on campus. But now, environmental study is also pursued through an entirely new academic lens, one that brings additional disciplines and perspectives together for a more complex understanding of the places we live: Environmental Humanities.

Danielle Endres
Danielle Endres

According to Danielle Endres, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and the 2006-07 recipient of the Environmental Humanities Research Professorship, the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies is nothing new. But what makes the Environmental Humanities program at the U so unique is its overall emphasis on the humanities. Drawing from the traditional sciences as well as English, Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Communication, graduate students utilize rhetorical criticism, literary criticism, writing, and ethics to examine a place. And as the title Environmental Humanities might suggest, a large part of the program has to do with humans and their relationship to place through culture and history. “I emphasize that interdisciplinary also implies a dialogue with other fields,” Endres says. “So I encourage them to also consider scientific fields and political sciences.”

In many ways, the University is a natural fit for this sort of approach, with an undergraduate Environmental Studies program, an Environmental Communication division within the Communication Department, and the Wallace Stegner Center already in place. “There are a lot of opportunities to get involved in environmental issues and dialogue,” Endres says. “We are located in a place that has a variety of environmental issues, as in the city’s efforts against human-caused climate change, the uniqueness of the desert ecosystem, the history of nuclear testing, and contemporary storage of nuclear waste.”

With generous backing from the Tides Foundation’s Kendeda Sustainability Fund and individual donors, the two-year graduate program came to life. Next, a diverse and immensely talented roster of faculty and fellows was assembled from various departments and programs, headed by Mark Bergstrom, associate dean of the College of Humanities, who oversees the administrative aspects of the program. Visiting scholars and fellows, such as renowned writer-activist Terry Tempest Williams BS’79 MS’84, who is the University’s current Annie Clark Tanner Fellow, round out the program’s talent pool.

May 2007 saw the program’s first set of graduates. After completing their study, the new grads are empowered with the experience and knowledge to enter a number of fields—academic, governmental, media, legal, and business—that require expertise in environmental theory, sustainability, and policy.

Endres and others see the degree’s foundation as offering a better approach to formulating solutions to environmental problems around the world. “The humanities are an essential, but sometimes neglected, resource for finding solutions,” she says. “A humanities background can provide important conclusions and implications as to how environmental issues play out in policymaking and our understanding of the natural world and how it frames our choices as individuals. It’s a much-needed voice in contemporary environmental conversations.”

For more information on the Environmental Humanities graduate program, visit and follow the “Interdisciplinary Programs” link.

Campus Notebook

The U Launches New Podcast Site With the recent launch of “Podcasting from the U” (located online at, listeners can download audio broadcasts (commonly known as “podcasts”), noteworthy lectures, and discussions by prominent thinkers and educators, all for free. Listeners anywhere in the virtual community can save the podcasts as portable files by downloading them to an iPod or MP3 player; the podcasts can also simply be downloaded to computer and played by desktop media players such as QuickTime, RealPlayer or the Windows Media Player.

Donation Boosts U of U’s Public Health HIV/AIDS Outreach Program The Public Health Program at the University of Utah School of Medicine got a much-needed shot in the arm for its statewide HIV/AIDS education plan, thanks to a $100,000 donation from Intermountain Healthcare. The gift will be used to support the Kristen M. Ries, M.D., HIV/AIDS Research and Service Endowment in Public Health. Ries is a professor of internal medicine and adjunct professor of family and preventive medicine in the U of U School of Medicine. The Ries Research and Service Endowment was established in May to honor the three decades of service and care she has given to the HIV/AIDS community in Utah and across the country.

U of U Receives Center of Excellence Grant to Improve Response to Disease Outbreaks The University of Utah has received a three-year, $4.5 million Center of Excellence grant to study how the public health system can better prepare for and respond to communicable disease outbreaks and other public health problems. The University’s is one of three new centers the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established in public health informatics. Improving the way health information is reported by numerous sources and then analyzed by public health officials will be a major focus of the center.


Michael L. Hardman

New Dean for the College of Education Michael L. Hardman, professor and chair of the Department of Special Education and the Department of Teaching and Learning, has been named dean of the U’s College of Education. Hardman replaces Ted Packard, who has served as interim dean since May 2006, when former Dean David J. Sperry took a leave from the U and was hired as a scholar in residence by the Board of Regents. Hardman also serves as the University coordinator for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring.


Octavio Villalpando
Octavio Villalpando

Villalpando Named Associate VP for Diversity Octavio Villalpando, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has been selected as the new associate vice president for diversity. The Office of the AVP for Diversity is committed to eliminating the barriers traditionally encountered by individuals from underrepresented groups. It works with various campus entities to recruit and retain students, staff, and faculty, and makes every attempt to support their academic, professional, and personal success. Villalpando brings to the position more than 20 years of broad educational leadership experience and scholarly expertise in the area of equity and diversity in higher education.

Campus Curtain Call Eddie Coe BFA’73 MPhil’84 (master of philosophy, in theatre history), technical director for the University of Utah’s Department of Theater, retires this year after more than 30 years with the department. In his career at the U, Coe has done a little of everything, from teaching acting and scenography classes to designing, building, and lighting shows.

Making New Plans Regina Schaub has retired as director of the U of U’s Office of Space Planning & Management after 33 years. The office coordinates space assignments, room numbering, and more for the 298 buildings on campus. Bruce Gillars, previous director of space planning for Health Sciences, is the new director.

In Memoriam

R. Davis Bitton, 77, a University of Utah professor of history for 29 years.

D. Gordon Paxman, 81, emeritus professor of ballet, former chair of the Ballet and Modern Dance departments, and former associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, who also helped form what is now known as Ballet West.

Pierre Pincetl, M.D., 50, chief information officer for University Health Care and associate vice president for the University of Utah’s Health Sciences Information Technology Services.

Alice Mae Shoman MS’53 PhD’66, 79, former coach of the ski and swim teams.

Sybil Todd, 66, former vice president of student affairs.


Biologist Baldomero “Toto” Olivera, who looks for possible new medicines in the toxins of venomous sea-dwelling cone snails, was named Scientist of the Year by Harvard University’s Harvard Foundation.

The latest graduate school listings by U.S. News & World Report ranks the U’s Health Sciences Center 45th for primary care, and the School of Medicine 49th for research. The Master of Public Administration programs rank 46th for public affairs, while the College of Engineering came in at 55, the College of Education at 69, the David Eccles School of Business at 63, and the S.J. Quinney College of Law at 57.

The Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, touted as better than the U.S. News rankings at judging doctoral programs at research institutions—by measuring faculty members’ scholarly output, awards and honors, and federal funding—ranked the University 3rd in the nation in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry, 7th for Special Education, 8th for Anatomy, and 9th for both Bioengineering and Educational Psychology.

In 2007, the Department of Chemical Engineering celebrates the 100th anniversary of awarding the University of Utah’s first bachelor of science in chemical engineering (it went to Duncan Arthur Mac Innes in 1907). The University was the first school west of the Mississippi River to grant a degree in the field. The department will celebrate a century of educating young engineers with a gala planned for September 20 in the John & Marva Warnock Engineering Building. For details, contact Lynn Hildy at (801) 581-6647 or

The Association of University Technology Managers recently released its survey of 2005 commercialization results for 228 universities, and the University of Utah ranked number 19 in commercialization revenue, placing it above such research powerhouses as Johns Hopkins University and the California Institute of Technology.

Peter Trapa
Peter Trapa

University of Utah mathematician Peter Trapa and a group of 17 other researchers at various institutions have solved a math problem so complicated that the calculation, if written out, would cover an area the size of Manhattan. After four years of intensive collaboration, these 18 leading mathematicians and computer scientists from the U.S. and Europe successfully mapped E8, one of the largest and most complicated structures in mathematics.

An Invitation from the U

During a 2007 Commencement address, University of Utah President Michael K. Young announced the creation of a University-wide initiative to reach out to former U students who have completed most of their coursework but—for whatever reasons—have not completed their bachelor’s degrees.

“There are more than 4,000 students in the last 10 years who have completed 90 or more credits at the University but not completed their degree,” Young stated. “Some of those students may be in this audience today. Wherever you are, we invite you back. Like those who are sitting before me today, you deserve the opportunity to reach your dream.”

This initiative will provide academic advising, offer individualized connections with academic programs and departments, and perhaps most important, make available a team of University agencies that can identify financial resources, child care options, and career opportunities to facilitate success. Additionally, the president has directed the admissions office to waive the re-admission fee for these returning students. Information about this new initiative can be found on the University’s Web site.

Return to Summer 2007 Table of Contents