Professor Jason Hamilton fuses science and sustainability
Amid the bad news about global climate change and energy crises, Ithaca College assistant biology professor and ecologist extraordinaire Jason Hamilton has become a leading collaborator in the field of environmental sustainability in higher education. Spearheading the College’s sustainability initiatives and thrusting them onto the national stage with his research and conservation efforts, he has helped make IC a leader among American colleges and universities in the pursuit of more eco-friendly practices.
Soon after enrolling in one of Hamilton’s ecology classes, students get swept up in the maelstrom of activity surrounding IC’s sustainability research. His laidback teaching style conveys an easy familiarity with the current issues in environmental studies, and his approach to conducting labs is almost exclusively hands-on.
“The theme is doing labs that are actually helpful to somebody, that produce a product that would be helpful to somebody for real,” he says.
The Alternative Landscaping Project was a major focus of his labs throughout the fall 2006 semester. “The idea,” Hamilton explains, “is that what students learn from those spots we will be able to use to eventually make recommendations for alternative landscaping on all the steep slopes at Ithaca College.”
Students carry the lessons from these labs with them long after they move on to other classes. “I find myself subconsciously identifying tree species from leaves I see on the ground now,” says former student Franchesca Lebron ’09.
Although not all of the students in Hamilton’s labs are environmental activists, they are introduced to a diverse crowd of environmentalists throughout the campus community and Tompkins County. Many of these students eventually go on to work with Hamilton or with other professors on nationally recognized presentations and projects.
For example, two students traveled to the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) at Arizona State University. “AASHE was interesting,” Hamilton says, “because the whole session was about students and sustainability, and our students were the only students speaking about sustainability during the conference. It was nice to see.”
Closer to home, Hamilton serves as the faculty chair and co-founder of IC Natural Lands alongside Rick Couture, the associate vice president of IC facilities. Natural Lands promotes the use of about 200 acres of IC-owned forest for learning and research.
“I found out about IC’s plan to use its open spaces for logging and realized it would impact our educational programs because at that point we were starting more and more to use these lands for things like ecology classes and Principles of Biology. We work to develop policy for the natural areas, to carry out the daily management of these areas, to try to promote the use of these areas for teaching and research, to build a website, to work on forestry issues, all these kinds of things,” he says.
Students use the areas protected by IC Natural Lands extensively for conducting outdoor labs, discussing forestry methods and problems, and mapping and studying rare land contained within IC property, such as elevated swamp areas and stands of nonnative pines.
Working together with several passionate faculty peers, Hamilton is striving to solidify Ithaca’s place among the nation’s top eco-friendly schools.
“In terms of curricular innovation and participation among faculty, we’re really one of the leaders in the country,” he says. “A lot of schools are doing great things, but Ithaca College is really exploring how to integrate sustainability into our curriculum so that it’s not just taking a class and being done with sustainability education for the day.”
Want to really make an impact on environmental studies at Ithaca College? Take a class with Jason Hamilton and get connected.
Originally published in Fuse: Learning Environment.