In 2018-2019, hundreds of students, faculty, and members of the community attended lectures focused on our relationship with the natural world. This was the first year of the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series. The success of the series is thanks in large part to the diverse range of faculty and staff that worked on the committee to bring a variety of lecturers from different fields and backgrounds to the University of Northern Iowa.
One member of the committee is Eric O’Brien, Director of Sustainability at UNI. The position of Director of Sustainability exists at an intersection between campus operations and campus community. For example, while O’Brien does not operate the campus recycling program, he is the touchstone for fielding calls about it and anything else related to the environment. “So I'm the one that is identifying some of these opportunities within our operations so that we're able to change that students, faculty, staff want to see,” he explains.
O’Brien’s job also involves organizing students on sustainability related projects. The Sustainability Office oversees the Green Fund, which is managed by students. A large part of the job involves instilling a culture of sustainability on campus, and the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series is a part of that.
O’Brien explained, “We have speakers coming to campus all the time and there are some themes that can develop through that. But we don't do a very good job of tying them together. One group will bring in one speaker, another group might have something else planned that might overlap, and neither one of them has any idea that the other one is doing that work.” The series was created to build upon what was already going on across campus and to look at a broad theme of sustainability throughout the year and, if possible provide a connection between efforts.
After that, the idea was to get together a group of different people to expand the reach of the program, and part of O’Brien’s job was to find those people and bring them to the table.
“That's how we ended up with the core planning team. All of us have different roles and skills and strengths that we bring to the table, and that's been one of the real successes of it,” he said.
Lecturers for the 2018-2019 school year included Dr. Jennifer Lowry, Elizabeth Kolbert, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, David Archambault II, Bob Inglis, and Terry Tempest Williams. Each speaker was supported through multiple diverse partnerships across campus and within the Cedar Valley. These included The Tallgrass Prairie Center, First-Year Cornerstone, the North American review, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable trust. Each lecture in the series is documented on the series website with suggested pre– or companion readings so that faculty, students, and the public can extend their experience with each lecturer.
The committee is ready to announce two of the planned speakers for the 2019-2020 school year: Katharine Hayhoe and Justin Brice Guariglia.
Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist who works at Texas Tech University. O’Brien explained that a lot of Hayhoe’s work relates to the way that people talk about climate change. “She's one of our big speakers. Another perspective that she comes from is that she is an evangelical Christian. She does a lot of work talking to faith based communities about why it's important for churches to not necessarily stand on the sideline when it comes to environmental issues. It's an interesting perspective that we haven't had here on campus and I'm really excited to bring that.”
Justin Brice Guariglia is an artist and environmental activist. He is well-known for his public, large-scale projects that attract attention to ecological issues. “This is a really unique perspective that we're talking a about a lot more now. There have been a lot of people that have focused on the science, but his art is all about changing people's perceptions just by those visual displays that he's presenting,” O’Brien says.
O’Brien would like students and faculty to know that the committee is open to accepting suggestions for future lecture series speakers. He would also like to emphasize that these lectures are for students and faculty of all fields of study, not just environmental science. His hope is that the lecture series will continue for many years to come.
Learn more about last year’s lecture series speakers and about future speakers at: https://guides.lib.uni.edu/leopold-lectures.