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Biographical Sketch of Joseph V. Siry: "A Tree Planter

"Nourish the Earth, or perish."

Joseph Siry, Ph.D., of Winter Park, is a faculty member (third from the right in the picture) who works with graduate and undergraduate students teaching at Rollins College since 1984. He has sponsored nearly thirty master's degree students in liberal studies on subjects from civil rights to gender equity and environmental science. His research regarding climate change, wildlife conservation and coastal wetland loss involves understanding the consequences of ecological decline.

He addressed the matter of global warming and the loss of biodiversity in the world's wildlife populations at an International Biodiversity Conference in Banos Ecuador, 2007. By participating in the Focus the Nation teach-in effort in January 2008 he brought the seriousness of the problem to students and faculty attention based on realistic solutions to curbing our heat trapping gas emissions by conserving energy. He is a policy topics editor for Encyclopedia of Earth, a digital media source for academic information on the world wide web which is a collaborative effort of Boston University and the National Council for Science and the Environment.

Dr. Siry believes that through energy efficiency and renewable fuel sources, industrially advanced commercial nations must lead the way in conserving the world's remaining wildlife and wild areas. One such example is the solar electric generating project he helped steer into reality at the College in 2006-2007. Since 2007 he has worked with his colleague in Chemistry, Larry Eng-Wilmot to bring students, faculty and staff to New Orleans to rebuild low-income housing for disaffected communities in the Mississippi delta. He is the faculty advisor the student organization Rollins Relief that has been assisting Habitat for Humanity in the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans since 2006.

In 2006, he and an engineer, Ron Presswood (Rollins Alumni) worked with students in SIry's coastal conservation class and the City of Satellite Beach, Florida to create an ocean dune restoration project in that municipality. In the summer of 2006, he attended the Oxford Roundtable on the Arts and the Sciences at Jesus College in Oxford University, where he gave an opening address on Charles Percy Snow's essay, The Two Cultures. In the summer of 2007, he presented a paper on the affects of climate chaos and global warming on the declining level of biological diversity at a meeting of environmental professionals in Syracuse University after attending a National Audubon training and lobbying on behalf of protecting the arctic in, Washington, D.C. Our American traditions of solving problems with appropriate technology and the varied array of renewable energy alternatives are just some of the reasons he believes that global warming is a problem that humans have created and that together we can begin to solve with new monetary institutions and engineering.

During the fall 2005, Dr. Siry spoke to the University Club of Winter Park on Charles Darwin's legacy today, in light of new scientific evidence for natural selection and the recent unscientific attacks on the teaching of biology. Siry suggests that if the Creationists and "intelligent design" proponents have a problem with evolution they begin arguing with physics' faculties because the cosmology of the big bang and an expanding while evolving universe is the work of modern science science Edwin Hubble discovered the ongoing expansion of outer space in 1921.

In addition to teaching, he has spent a year as a River Restoration Coordinator for Florida Defenders of the Environment in an effort to restore the St. Johns River watershed. This post was after his third consecutive year as a founder and director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s, Florida global warming campaign. Siry received the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Cypress Award, in 2000, for leadership in preservation efforts and for his work on global warming. Created in 1999, the Florida Climate Alliance is a statewide organization with over forty affiliated members from across the nation and the state including business, civic and environmental groups united in their effort to reduce air and water pollution from mercury and heat trapping gases.

Siry is currently Treasurer and member of the Executive Board of the Save the Manatee Club. From 1996 until 1999 he was a Florida Audubon Society Board of Trustees member. In 1998 he was reelected to be Vice President of Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE), a Gainesville based organization dedicated to bringing science to bear on policy questions of ecosystem protection and river stewardship. A member of FDE for over two decades, Siry remains a member of the group's Executive Board. Dr. Siry has guided over 25 graduate master's theses in the Rollins College, Masters of Liberal Studies Program of the Hamilton Holt School. From 1995 until 2001, he was the Director of Environmental Management at Rollins’ Brevard Campus, while teaching courses in legislative politics, computer aided research, or science and policy.

In considering the formative influences on my learning, "I first studied the Alcovy River tributary of the Altamaha River in Georgia as an undergraduate at Emory University thanks to biologists Dr. Homer Sharp and Dr. Curry T. Haines. This was part of my third quarter in biology," he recalls and "it was not until a geology class when I first saw the Georgia Sea Islands that I realized the significance of rivers and the sea. In that year of study I witnessed precisely how complex any river really is at it tumbles out of the mountains, winding its way across the Piedmont relentlessly sculpting the landscape as it moves water, silt and nutrients to the undulating tides of a restlessly awaiting ocean."

A graduate of Emory University with High Honors in History, in 1971, Siry was a biology lab assistant, college newspaper editor, and a cashier at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, while in College. He worked in two summers as a computer operator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. He began teaching undergraduates in 1972 at Middle Tennessee State University where he was inspired by reading Wallace Stegner to consider the critical role of water in American civilization. He sought his doctorate at the University of California at Santa Barbara [U.C.S.B.] to combine the study of ecology with intellectual and social history. “By linking science, technology and ecology you may better understand the complexity of human adaptation to changes in wildlife and geography” he notes. He received his doctorate in Environmental History from U.C.S.B. in 1981.

“My views changed abruptly at Santa Barbara where I heard speakers such as James Watson, discoverer of DNA, Richard Leakey on human origins, David Brower founder of Earth Island Institute, and E. F. Schumacher author of Small is Beautiful, Stanford marine biologist Joel Hedgpeth and Morgan Sherwood a naturalist of the sea and Alaska respectively. "I was challenged to envision a new relationship of people to their surroundings in meeting these people," Siry recalls. While at Santa Barbara I also had the good fortune to study history with Wilbur Jacobs and Roderick Nash and biological ideas with the late Garrett Hardin.” Besides falling in love with John Muir’s “range of light” the Sierra Nevada mountains, “I began growing a vegetable garden, hiking through the Coastal ranges, and reading.” He mostly read Thoreau, Darwin and other naturalists. “The field courses I most recall were about plant ecology, marine mammals, and the natural history of the Santa Barbara Channel.” Because of the ecological problems involved and the beauty of the surrounding countryside, “Rachel Carson’s and Aldo Leopold’s ideas crystallized for me doing field work on estuaries, salt marshes and near shore kelp forest fisheries for my dissertation.” Without realizing the profound influence it had on me I read Ernst Mayr's edition of Darwin's Origin of Species, Edwin Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, and Ian McHarg's Design with Nature.

After teaching for several colleges in the San Francisco Bay area he met his current wife Barbara McMorrow in Martinez, California, while teaching History at Sonoma State University and Environmental Science at Chapman College in the Napa Valley. A year after their marriage in 1983, they moved to central Florida. Coming home to Florida after an absence of 15 years was instructive. The Everglades jet port and Barge Canal proposals were dead but the state had doubled in population. “I remember meeting Dr. Archie Carr for the first time in Gainesville, in 1984, because I complained to him about the apparently abysmal state of environmental protection in the Florida.“ Archie directed Barbara and me to meet an enthusiastic woman in Gainesville who was then in charge of FDE. This was, of course, Mrs. Marjorie Carr, who convinced us to join her crusade to protect Florida’s wilderness and wildlife.”Our meeting Marjorie and Archie changed us and the work we pursued in protecting the vanishing ecological habitats of the nation."

Siry’s first serious encounter, in 1985 with the conservation community, grass roots organizers such as Attorney Michael Chenowith with the Isaac Walton League, and the Florida State Cabinet came over his outspoken expression of concern for the decline in the biological diversity and ecological conditions of the Everglades and Florida Keys offshore coral reefs. As author of Marshes of the Ocean Shore: the Origins of an Ecological Ethic, Siry recognized a serious flaw in the division of jurisdictions that divorced the reefs and the tropical hardwood hammocks of the keys from the protection of the National Park Service. As a fragmented landscape of wet prairies, tropical hardwood forests, and coastal mangroves the unity of the Everglades as that nourishing river of grass had been sacrificed to development that now ironically depends as never before on this oasis of fresh water in a rising sea of salt water intrusion.

By combining community action with relevant research and engaged teaching in Environmental History, the History of Science and Technology and community-based service learning activities, Siry believes that “students have encouraged me to adopt a completely active approach to civic improvement as an investigative venue for envisioning how to solve social and ecological problems. My students teach me far more about the world than I teach them,” he says “so I've become committed to doing something for others and not just preaching.” Service learning is an absolute prerequisite experience for students to become actively engaged, self-motivated citizens to responsibly enhance their communities.

Due to the mounting global threats to all life from climate change and global warming to the loss of biodiversity, education must change to incorporate an urgency in learning, a dedication to community renewal and an expansion of our moral imagination to encompass the imperious challenges of this new era. The unengaged student is a liability in a world desperate for expertise and honest analysis. The challenge is ours to salvage our nation's tarnished reputation and ignite a rebirth of ingenuity in solving the world's social and ecological problems to enable us to restore communities one house and one city at a time.

Siry has had his classes adopt an inner city elementary school in Orlando in order to grow and demonstrate an “edible and native botanical garden,” or stay over night in a homeless shelter. By showing young people how to plant something for the future, that they may eat or find beautiful, you do more than put a seed or a tree in the ground,” he insists “you offer people an important opportunity to grow personally and give them a tangible piece of earth to care for, tend and nourish.” Spending an evening with students in a homeless shelter brings the matter of homelessness into personal experience in a manner that is never quite fully revealed in reading about homeless people or displaced species. "Unless we learn to nourish one another, our world will perish."

Because there is so much to do in the world to sustain ourselves and others, “Unless you start somewhere,” Siry argues, “you can feel overwhelmed and easily succumb to fatalism.” He concludes that “things converge in stewarding a small workable garden or arbor because planting trees, vegetables or reintroducing native species has big returns from a small step anyone can take to diversify a piece of land. That way we enhance the gene pool for future generations.” Trees have so many advantages attached to them --not the least of which-- as they are the gift that keeps on giving long after I will have died.

(2000 words)

Born: St Francis Hospital; [once sited at] Alton Road, Miami Beach, Florida.

Graduated from Emory University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.