Alan Berkowitz

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                               Ph.D. 1986 (Cornell University)
Position                                             Head of Education
Organization                                     Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Eugene P. Odum Award for 2003

alanbWhen did you become interested in ecology?
As a child, I loved the outdoors, trees, rocks, rivers and mountains, and spent many hours in the woods along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia. My professional interest melds the influences of my parents, both lovers of ideas: my father a professor of electrical engineering and my mother an innovative educator. High school and college teachers provided key mentoring and guidance, and the love of nature shared by my college and graduate school fellow students galvanized my commitment to the field.

How did you learn about ecological careers? What is your position title now?
I learned about ecology from my professors in college (Antioch College in Ohio), and from naturalists and resource managers at the Grand Canyon. My current job, Head of Education at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, allows me to pursue my two great interests understanding how the world works and teaching.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
My undergraduate years provided a wealth of experiences since Antioch’s work/study program requires at least 6 different jobs for graduation. Thus, I worked for the Sierra Club, wrote a bicycle atlas for Washington DC, held several environmental education jobs, was a naturalist at the Grand Canyon, and served as a research associate at a prestigious plant biology institute. Likewise, the small class size and close relationship with professors at Antioch helped me learn how to learn. However, it wasn’t until arriving at Cornell for graduate school that I learned about modern ecology and about research. Catching up with coursework was a bit of a challenge, but Cornell provided tremendous opportunities and I found a wonderful group of fellow graduate students to work with. This group, indeed, was as important as my faculty mentors in my training. Cornell’s introductory biology course, for which I TA’ed for two years, had a fantastic training program. This exposure and experience built on early experiences I’d had in education as a high school student and at the Grand Canyon to help me develop as an educator.

What key advice would you offer a student today?
Seek out and be inspired by role models people whose work and lives you admire but follow your own path. Don’t be fooled that there is just one way to be successful or happy; indeed, we need the fullest diversity of approaches and pathways for the field to flourish. Bring your individuality to your work and your passion.

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Do it always and in all ways you can! If you do a good job communicating a basic understanding of something, and you convey your love for the ideas and the object of your teaching, then you get to re-experience your own joy. This is one of the greatest gifts ecologists receive and it comes from giving.



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