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I.S. propels post-graduate life, understanding

In early 1976, I sat in the Kauke Hall office of my I.S. advisor Dr. John Gates, professor of history at The College of Wooster. The purpose of our meeting was to choose a topic for my Senior I.S.  

When asked what I planned to research and write about, my response was, “I really don’t know, except that it be in American history, and perhaps something related to the environment.” Dr. Gates proceeded to describe his family’s vacation to Yosemite National Park the previous summer, where he had been introduced to the writings of John Muir, a naturalist and author from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Muir also had founded the Sierra Club and other organizations.

Dr. Gates dispatched me to Andrews Library, where I found and quickly devoured three of Muir’s texts that documented his exciting and sometimes outlandish treks throughout the Americas. One of his books described a thousand-mile walk he took from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico. A unifying theme in all his works was to fully experience nature and protect the nation’s natural treasures.

Reading about John Muir led me to learn about other pillars of the growing environmental community at the turn of the century.  They included Gifford Pinchot, who was the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and Steven Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service. And of course, the giant of the period was Theodore Roosevelt, who during his presidency established 150 national forests four national parks and many other nature reserves, as part of protecting more than 200 million acres of public lands. The more I read about this dynamic period, when the conservation movement was just beginning, the more I thought it made an excellent Senior I.S. topic.

What was surprising when conducting my research was the relative newness of efforts to protect and conserve natural resources in the U.S. Teddy Roosevelt had not acted to protect federal lands until 1905, and the Park Service did not exist prior to 1917.  

The aim of the still young country had been to develop its vast resources of timber, land, water and minerals as quickly as possible to generate wealth.  It wasn’t until the end of the 1800s that people like Muir and Pinchot show that resources were not boundless and needed to be conserved and managed more efficiently.  For John Muir, there were many places that needed to be off-limits to any development and protected forever.  If you’ve been to Muir Woods outside of San Francisco or been fortunate enough to see Muir Glacier in Alaska, you will recognize the influence of this man to protect many of the wonders we are fortunate enough to still see today.

The main conclusion of my Senior I.S. was that while the conservation and preservation movement at the turn of the century was significant for the protections it provided, it also ushered-in a set of new goals for the U.S., including that of stewardship.  The careful management of resources that followed helped the country grow even faster, and better yet, more efficiently.  I tried my best to capture the dramatic social and economic changes in the U.S. during this period. Through the guidance of Dr. Gates and Dr. Turner, I successfully completed and defended my Senior I.S.

And now, more than 100 years after John Muir was writing about the great American wilderness, the U.S. is confronted with a new but similar set of challenges to conserve resources. Today, we are taking dramatic action to de-carbonize our energy system and to make it more sustainable through the use of renewable sources.  More than likely, there have been many I.S. topics on this subject.  

As for me, I’m extremely grateful to have had the I.S. experience.  It not only introduced me to a fascinating period of U.S. history, but also taught me how to conduct comprehensive research and insightful analysis.  During my 35 years in the energy industry, in all parts of the world, I continue to draw from my I.S. experience when assessing changing business objectives, understanding new technology and pushing for higher environmental goals. Enjoy your experience, too.

Mark Morey, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at Mark+Morey@gmail.com.

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