Lawrence A. Kapustka (2009)

From a “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.

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Full Name Lawrence A. Kapustka
Degree PhD
Job Position Consultant
Organization LK Consultancy
Department N/A
Professional Affiliation Business
Research Discipline Environmental/Resource Management
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses My work in the field of environmental risk assessment entails integration of stakeholder values, ecological systems, and environmental management decision-making. This effort starts with consideration of the ecological setting with a landscape to describe interrelationships among system components. The risk component focuses on characterizing the likelihood of plausible outcomes that may ensue from use and manipulation of environmental resources.
What do you love most about your job? I have held positions in academia, government, and the private sector. As a consultant, I have found the greatest satisfaction, largely because the culmination of a project requires clear recommendations regarding environmental management actions to be taken. This seldom can default to urge more research. Clients, whether government agencies or industry are pressed to act on the information at hand. Making a recommendation is both heady and humbling.
For each degree you’ve obtained, list the degree, field, and institution. B. S. (Education, Biology, Coaching), Univeristy of Nebraska-Lincoln
M. S. (Botany-Physiological Ecology), University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ph.D. (Botany and Microbiology-Physiological Ecology, University of Oklahoma, Norman
Briefly describe your job path. My career path began in academics at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and then Miami University. After 13 years in research and education, I gave up tenure to take a government research position at the US EPA laboratory in Corvallis, OR. Apparently not demonstrating an aversion to risk, I left that position in 1990 to start a consulting company that I operated for 15 years. In 2005, I relocated to Calgary, AB where I worked in a large engineering firm for three-plus years before returning to private consulting as a sole-proprietor.
What challenges did you need to overcome? Throughout my career (in all sectors), I have found the most interesting opportunities lie in the gaps between established practices. Challenging the status quo is simultaneously envigorating and frustrating. Academic departments tend to press for conformity and often erect disincentives to work on trans-disciplinary pursuits. Governments become rigid in their adherence to regulations, even when the underlying science exposes deficiencies. The private sector, driven by quarterly or monthly balance sheets, are often motivated to do cheap over more appropriate. The common theme is the tendency to resist change; the challenge is to forge ahead and be satisfied with incremental improvements, even when a good case can be made for more substantive actions.
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future? I want to maintain my fascination with learning new things.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? That depends of course on the make up of the guests, however, I typically begin by identifying that I am an environmental consultant, I emphasize my perspective as an ecologist, and if there is continued interest, I will proceed to describe risk assessment as a way to inform decision-makers.
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice? I was raised on a farm that my family rented. Two of five siblings worked their way through B.A degrees. I was the first to go on to graduate school. My family was genuinely proud of my accomplishments career path.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)? My interests in ecology began in early childhood as a farm kid spending as much time as possible fishing and hunting. But it was the first Earth Day celebration that brought the personal and the academic interests together. Entry into graduate studies was serendipitous. My goal of being a high school biology teacher and basketball coach was set aside as the teacher market was suddenly saturated. The graduate faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (John Davidson, Eric Davies, John McClendon, and Pat Rand) each pushed in different ways challenging assumptions and demanding clarity and logic. When I moved to Oklahoma in pursuit of doctoral studies, I was again privileged to interact in a setting that honored the classic roots of biology while embracing forward-looking developments. Dynamic interactions among ecology students of Elroy Rice (my advisor) and Paul Risser; physiologists Len Beevers and John Fletcher; and taxonomist Jim Estes brought ecology to life.
Who currently inspires you? I am fascinated with the ways in which groups and individuals make decisions. The challenge of bringing relevant ecogical information to persons who may have limited comprehension of ecology demands that I learn more of what I think I know.
What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you? Stay current and be excited to learn new things. What one studies, even as a graduate student, is much less important than learning how to learn. The details of any vibrant topic in ecology are likely to be hopelessly dated before one reaches mid-career. Only by staying current, to be willing to give up on previously held positions as new information demands, can one make a meaningful contribution.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)? That I have a passion for reasoned discourse.
How do you feel your work has contributed to society? Society faces many challenges that to varying degrees depend on ecological resource management. The exciting challenge for ecologists is to communicate the complex technical relationships that define ecological systems to a broader audience. Working with industry, government, and public interest groups to solve contemporary environmental problems can be frustrating or fulfilling and is often both. The science of ecology provides many opportunities to resolve conflicts among potentially adversarial parties and offers the best hope for successfully environmental management.
Award Name Senior Ecologist
Year originally profiled. 2009

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