Brett Clark pushes to further interdisciplinary efforts as director for Environmental & Sustainability Studies

DSC_0441By Sarah Lappé, Communications and Outreach Coordinator

Brett Clark has an impressive resume, inspiring list of publications, and a long, lovely, braided ponytail. When you first meet him, you get the impression that he is ready to go on a hike with you at anytime, and his personality is overwhelmingly welcoming.

I recently sat down with Clark to chat about his past and his new appointment as the director of Environmental & Sustainability Studies, a program in the College of Social & Behavioral Science. He took over as director in July. Clark, an associate professor at the U, teaches courses in Environmental Humanities and Sociology, as well as Environmental & Sustainability Studies.

Originally from Rapid City, S.D., Clark stayed west of the Mississippi River for his studies, getting his undergraduate degree at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, his master’s degree at Colorado State, and finally his doctorate from University of Oregon. Clark says he could have stayed in school forever, so it was not a big surprise that he focused his career in academia.

After Oregon, Clark became a professor at North Carolina State for four years, but missed the West. When he saw the job opportunity from the U for a single position acting as faculty in both humanities and social sciences, he thought this split appointment would appeal to his passions for both subjects and would offer a unique combination of two worlds intersecting. He, of course, landed the job.

Clark worked in that position for three years, until his recent appointment as the director. Dan McCool, the previous director, resigned from the position after serving as the program’s leader for 12 years. McCool continues to educate students as a professor in Political Science, and Clark mentions that Dan will be a continued resource, whether it is a quick phone call or a conversation while hiking together.

As Clark takes over his new role, he understands the demands ahead.

“The challenge is that this program started as a single class, and it has been built into its own program with approximately 300 majors,” Clark says. “The program has made many advances. We are in a major period of opportunity and transition as we are going to reassess the curriculum and potentially offer specialized tracks to help students develop particular skills for future jobs.”

When considering the future, Clark often incorporates historical insights. Clark is known for his extensive research on historical topics relating to the environment and the assessment of the human dimensions of environmental change through the examination of the intersection of social sciences and natural sciences. Through this historical, multidisciplinary research, Clark strives to understand how the world is organized, and to determine the avenues for social change. Clark plans to use this insight to help shape and mold the program.

“Many of the greatest challenges that we are facing as a society are environmental problems,” Clark explains. “The human sides of these issues need to be addressed. … These solutions will require interdisciplinary efforts that stimulate new insights and opportunities to work with diverse groups of people.” Clark believes that the program is primed to better integrate itself across campus and to further its mission to support such interdisciplinary work.

For more information about the Environmental & Sustainability Studies program, including class information, visit envst.utah.edu

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