|Annie Ingram's New Appointment to Thomson Professorship Furthers Initiatives in Environmental Studies
December 10, 2009
Annie Merrill Ingram has been appointed as Davidson's inaugural Todd and Melissa Thomson Professor of Environmental Studies.
|Annie Merrill Ingram
Ingram, a professor of English who specializes in 19th- century American literature, has been serving as the college's Environmental Studies Coordinator since the subject was approved as an academic concentration in 2007. She will continue that duty, while the new professorship also positions her to lead the college toward developing a first-ever interdisciplinary major in environmental studies.
In making the appointment, Vice President of Academic Affairs Clark Ross said, "Annie has a long history of promoting environmental studies, making her the perfect choice for this chair and continuing her leadership role in the field."
Ingram began creating and teaching environmental literature classes five years after joining the Davidson faculty in 1994. It was a manifestation of a lifetime's love of the outdoors and appreciation for the wilderness.
She grew up all over the country but spent most summers at "the Ranch," her grandparents' place in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. "I began carrying my own pack on family backpacking trips when I was seven," she recalled. "My cousins and I loved playing in the woods and creek, fishing and picking wild blackberries."
Her first environmental offering at Davidson was "Studies in Literature and the Environment." She also developed an environmental writing course in conjunction with Davidson Outdoors that involves backpacking, leadership, and wilderness skills. She has twice taught "Wild Lives: American Environmental Narratives," and has team-taught the college's new "Introduction to Environmental Studies" course. During the last two years she has also co-edited a book about ecocritical theory, and contributed to a book on contemporary environmental literature.
Ingram noted that momentum toward an environmental studies major has been building at Davidson for many years. On at least two occasions prior to 2007, the Educational Policy Committee considered it as an academic concentration, but didn't find enough course offerings to support the action.
The new course offerings that finally led to EPC approval of the six-course concentration in 2007 included development of an introductory course and a capstone course in environmental studies. New environmentally focused courses have been developed by professors throughout the curriculum. A gift from 1983 graduates Todd and Melissa Thomson established the professorship , and permitted the college to offer one-term visiting appointments to nationally recognized specialists in environmental studies - Mike Branch and Mart Stewart.
There are five seniors expecting to graduate in May as the first Davidson students with an environmental studies concentration on their transcripts.
The growth of a curricular structure for environmental studies has coincided with other initiatives on campus focused on environmental awareness and sustainability. Ross noted that an environmental studies major will be supported by the rich mix of extracurricular initiatives, institutional goals and infrastructure procedures aimed at sustainability. "President Tom Ross has made environmental concerns paramount in college life," Vice President Ross said.
President Ross declared 2007-08 as "The Year of Sustainability" at Davidson and signed the American Colleges and Universities Presidents Climate Commitment, which commits Davidson to reaching climate neutrality as soon as possible.
The college created a sustainability office staffed full time with a Davidson Fellow. Physical Plant has implemented LEED standards for construction, and the college composts campus food waste and fallen leaves. New technology has led to significant reduction of paper use for computer lab printers, and recycling bins have been placed beside trash bins throughout the campus. For the past three years, a group of 10 students have joined together to live in the off-campus Eco House, where they engage in the study and practice of sustainability. The extracurricular Environmental Action Coalition has conducted annual campus waste audits, and campaigns to reduce energy use.
Environmental studies are also supported by the college's new strategic plan, which encourages interdisciplinary study of subjects that touch on the college's three major curricular areas-social science, natural science and humanities.
Davidson admission officials report that institution of environmental studies will allow the college to respond to an area of interest for many prospective students, who are attracted by that area of study. Though students have always been able to create their own environmental studies major through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Ingram said most students prefer a structured major in the regular curriculum. "If we build it, they will come," Ingram predicted.
The visiting and permanent faculty positions in environmental studies have been made possible at Davidson by a gift from trustee Todd S. Thomson '83 and his wife, Melissa '83. The Thomsons are long-time environmentalists. Todd, who is CEO of Headwaters Capital in New York City, has served for several years on the board of the World Resources Institute. The couple have recently completed a vacation home in Montana that is the first LEED Platinum residence in the state.
"I was inspired in my view of environmentalism partly from an environmental economics course I took at Davidson," said Todd Thomson.
He also expressed his admiration for Annie Ingram, and his delight in her selection for the position. He said, "I can't imagine a person who more embodies what we have in mind for the professorship than Annie. Her intelligence, energy, commitment, and focus on research and facts are exactly what's needed to be great in the role. She is obviously highly respected and appreciated by students and faculty alike."
Ingram said she is deeply honored and humbled to be named to the professorship, and looks forward to the opportunity to lead course development and program development in the area.
Despite plenty of negative news about the state of the environment, Ingram said she's optimistic that the challenges can be met. "I'm ‘Polly-Annie,'" she said. "We've got to be optimistic about it to get it done."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.