The University Record, May 10, 1993

Students, colleagues honor Stapp at weekend symposium

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

Environmentalists from throughout the country recently gathered at the U-M to discuss the history and future of environmental education with the man who many consider the father of that field.

The former students and colleagues of William B. Stapp, Thurnau Professor of Environmental Education in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), reunited here to honor Stapp in his retirement from 30 years of teaching. The event was coordinated by alumni of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, including Gus Medina of the World Wildlife Fund, Mary Paden of the World Resources Institute, and Pam Puntenney of Ann Arbor’s Environmental and Human Systems Management.

The weekend symposium, which culminated national Earth Week, April 19-24, looked at strategies for educating and empowering citizens to improve environments from both local and global perspectives.

Environmental educators must think in terms of citizens’ action, and not leave environmental policy work to state and federal governments, Stapp said in the opening session. “Leaders can’t make changes that people aren’t behind,” he said. “We must look at what motivates people to take action and change values.”

Poor and underrepresented groups need help in their efforts from experts in various fields, he added. Environmental educators therefore must target “engineers, architects and resource managers. We need to ask them, ‘What things are you doing for the politically powerless?’” Environmental advocacy and social change were not always key topics within the curriculum of the School of Natural Resources and Environment—nor of any institution, several speakers noted. In fact, the phrase, “environmental education” was seldom heard until 1968 when Stapp published the first issue of his Journal of Environmental Education.

In 1970, U-M became the national center of planning for the first Earth Day and held seminars that addressed new issues in environmmental education. Some of those became known as “Michigan Issues” in many circles, according to Pete Sandman, professor of environmental communication at Rutgers University and former associate professor of environmental communication at the U-M.

“The relationship of social justice to the environment, for example, was first explored here,” he said. “We tried to answer the ‘how’ question of environmental education, which was rare in the 1970s. The ‘what’—as in what problems needed to be solved—already was clear, so we focused on strategies for change.”

Throughout the symposium, alumni shared experiences gained in a variety of jobs in environmental education and natural resources fields. Many of the organizations represented are well-known at the local (City of Ann Arbor, Solid Waste Department), regional (Great Lakes Commission) and national (World Wildlife Fund) levels.

Those types of jobs are beginning to attract people who may not have always planned to enter environmentally oriented professions, noted Alumna Diane Drigot, chair of the SNRE Alumni Board of Governors. “Now that the U.S. military is being scaled down, there are fewer military job opportunities,” Drigot said.

Stapp received many awards during the symposium, including resolutions of honor from the Ann Arbor City Council and the Michigan Legislature and an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Education.

The author of more than 25 books, Stapp has been honored with over 40 national and international awards for his contributions to environmental education. Among his most recent honors is a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in a new environmental category. He pioneered principles that form the basis of environmental action curriculum in schools, communities and governments throughout the U.S. and abroad.

In 1971, Stapp was active in drafting the congressional National Environmental Education Act. His groundwork for the 1972 Stockholm Conference set the agenda for establishing a global environmental education strategy. In 1974, he was appointed to establish the United Nations Environmental Educational Program that involved 146 nations.

In the mid-1980s Stapp helped public school teachers near Ann Arbor and Detroit start interdisciplinary water monitoring programs in which students test water quality in the Huron and Rouge rivers. These programs engendered similar projects throughout the state, country and, eventually, the world with the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN).

After retirement, Stapp will continue to work with GREEN’s networks of students and communities and will serve as senior project adviser to the National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training at U-M.