By Michelle Edwards*
*The editors thank Michelle L. Edwards (PhD ’13) for providing this article. Michelle is now an assistant professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, for providing this article.
The inaugural EARThS Conference organized by Sociology graduate students with interests in topics related to environmental sociology was a great success. It also provided an opportunity to celebrate the life and contributions of Eugene Rosa who was influential in forming EARThS to encourage scholarship in environmental sociology.
On April 20, 2013, the EARThS (Environment, Agriculture, Resources, Technology, and Society) conference brought together more than 60 participants in the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education (CUE) at WSU. This interdisciplinary event was organized and well attended by EARThS members, Department of Sociology undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, Pullman and Moscow community members, and family and friends of Dr. Eugene A. Rosa (Gene). Sponsors included: the WSU Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), Department of Sociology, and the Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service. Students from the WSU Sociology Club also played a key role in helping to facilitate this event. Plentiful food and drinks were provided throughout the day by University Catering and the Moscow Food Co-op.
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This conference provided a venue for graduate students from departments across WSU to present environmental-themed research, for undergraduate students to discuss water issues following a film presented by the WSU Sociology Club, and for colleagues, friends, and family of Dr. Eugene A. Rosa to celebrate his contributions to the Department of Sociology, WSU, and the entire academic community.
The event began with a very meaningful introduction by James F. Short, Jr., that touched on the history of environmental sociology at WSU, highlighting in particular Dr. Rosa’s contributions to this tradition. Next, Richard York (PhD ’02), one of Dr. Rosa’s many accomplished graduate students and an associate professor at the University of Oregon, provided the keynote address. It drew attention to the limits of relying on “green” technologies and improved efficiency to solve contemporary environmental problems, while simultaneously ignoring political and social structures. He brilliantly blended his academic research with easy-to-understand examples (e.g., connecting national energy consumption with personal potato chip consumption).
Graduate students from academic departments across WSU presented their research in four sessions from about 10:45am to 2:15 pm. These presentations touched on a wide range of planetary boundaries that made up the conference’s theme from climate change to biodiversity loss to changes in land use. All four sessions demonstrated high-quality academic work and stimulated thoughtful questions from the audience. Presenters included: Natalie Boyle (Entomology), Amber Vinchesi (Entomology), Joseph Astorino (Sociology), Sarah Blake (Sociology), Elaine Bodah (Department of Horticulture and Landscape Management), Brian Bodah (Biological Systems), Feng Hao (Sociology), Tiffany Fulkerson (Anthropology), Michelle Edwards (Sociology), Joseph Kremer (Sociology), Michael Lengefeld (Sociology), Sowmya Ramachandran (Plant Pathology), and Scot Hulbert (Plant Pathology). The smooth flow of sessions was made possible by the excellent efforts of the following moderators: Erin Beilstein-Wedel, Lauren Scott, Katie Bittinger, and Elliot Sanchez (all from Sociology).
In the afternoon, a large crowd gathered to celebrate the academic contributions of Dr. Rosa, while undergraduate students viewed and discussed the documentary film: “FLOW: For the Love of Water” by Irena Salina. The screening and discussion, which was sponsored by the Sociology Club, was attended by approximately 60 students. The discussion centered on what students can do in their daily lives to help preserve water and considered the ethical dilemmas that come into play regarding water usage.
The celebration of Gene’s life and contributions began with an introduction by Don Dillman, who spoke of Gene’s academic and artistic passions, setting a bright tone for the event. This speech was followed by a video made up of written and spoken comments by Gene’s former graduate students, advisor, colleagues, and friends who reflected on his influence in their lives (created by Erin Beilstein-Wedel). With Don’s thoughtful comments as the emcee providing an easy flow for the event, audience members took turns describing memories of Gene, which resulted in both tears and laughter. Some of Gene’s photos, achievements, and art were also on display to provide a glimpse into the various aspects of his full life.