Carrie Johns '75


On Science, Mussels, and Milk

Carrie JohnsWant to know how environmental science has evolved over the past 30 years? The career of Carrie Johns ’75 provides some examples.

After graduating from Colby with a degree in biology, Johns earned a Ph.D. in botany at the University of Montana and conducted postdoctoral studies in Montana and San Francisco. She moved on to teach environmental science at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and was hired to fill the third tenure-track position in the developing department, where she has been ever since.

“The kinds of issues have evolved a lot in twenty years,” she said. “We were just starting to talk about global warming in 1988 and, having been out west, I wasn’t hugely [familiar] with acid-rain issues, which of course were very big in the Adirondacks. One of the really fun things was that I was in a position where I got to learn new things constantly, which kept me fresher about teaching.”

St. Lawrence’s environmental science program was designed to “link science and policy” by teaching the scientific aspects of the subject in concert with economic and political solutions. The department has expanded along with the academic field and now includes five tenure-track faculty members, an ES major, and 10 combined-major options.

Johns teaches courses in air pollution, forest environmental issues, and environmental sustainability in addition to introductory environmental science. This fall she will teach Sustainable Agricultural Systems and Water Pollution. She stresses an interactive classroom, avoiding long PowerPoint presentations, because “it’s too passive. They get a little bored.”

Instead Johns takes students into the field. For her water pollution class, she shows students her research sites in the St. Lawrence River. They find beds of zebra and quagga mussels, two introduced species that dominate Great Lakes ecosystems.

For her agriculture class Johns takes students to local farms and has them contrast small organic dairy farms with larger industrial farms. “They go into the big dairy expecting to see this awful place, but it’s really quite nice,” she said. “The animals look pretty comfortable and content—it’s just that they stay inside a long time. At the organic dairy the animals also look pretty content, but they go in and out.”

Students also consider operation of a sheep farm, a farmer’s market, a local food cooperative, and the campus garden. “It’s a way of enhancing critical thinking to get them to decide for themselves what’s the best avenue to go,” she said.

Chad Sisson ’96