Laurie Fowler, professor and associate dean in the Odum School of Ecology and clinical faculty member in in the School of Law, teaches her students the skills to engage with the community to solve real-world environmental problems.
Where did you earn your degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in English literature from Sewanee: The University of the South, my Juris Doctor from the UGA School of Law and my master of laws degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington School of Law. I am a professor and associate dean at the Odum School of Ecology. In that role, I help oversee public service and outreach, strategic planning, development and communication activities.
I am also a clinical faculty member in the School of Law, where I teach a clinical course, “Environmental Law Practicum,” whereby law and graduate students in ecology, forestry, environmental design, engineering and other fields help the community solve real-world environmental problems, usually related to water, land preservation or biodiversity protection.
I am also the director for policy for the UGA River Basin Center. With my colleague Seth Wenger, director for science, I lead research, academic and service and outreach programs that increase the capacity of communities and individual stakeholders to manage and protect their water and related land resources in a sustainable manner.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I started teaching my practicum at the law school 20 years ago. We made it interdisciplinary in focus about five years later when the Institute of Ecology (now the Odum School of Ecology) offered me a position.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I love teaching a comparative watershed management course in Costa Rica (comparing U.S. and Costa Rican laws and policies). It is a wonderful opportunity to learn from practioners from a different culture and governmental framework and to introduce students to the natural world in the most beautiful of settings.
What interests you about your field?
It is never dull; there are usually several ways to address a problem and there are many problems to address! Learning how to motivate different folks to protect the environment is fascinating—the language you speak, the tools you use, etc. Working with bright young people is invigorating and helps keep me energized. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the science/engineering/design aspects of environmental challenges and solutions. The importance of the subject matter also is compelling!
What are some highlights of your UGA career?
I learned so much working with a team of other professors and students at UGA and with local governments in North Georgia developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to protect imperiled aquatic species; Georgia is one of the world’s hotspots for aquatic biodiversity. It was a great example of marrying cutting-edge science with policy to protect the economy and the environment. I’m really enjoying our current work helping stakeholders in the Apalachicola-Chatthoochee-Flint river system develop a framework for sustainable transboundary water management. Both projects have provided enormous educational opportunities for our students.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they learn how to solve problems in a deliberate, well-reasoned and collaborative way. My practicum involves students working together in teams, often across disciplines, to solve an environmental problem for a client. In addition to the hard work of researching the subject matter at issue and exploring it from all angles—the science, the policy, the economics—students must tease out what the problem actually is (the real issue might not be readily apparent), determine how each member of the team can best contribute toward identifying a solution or menu of solutions, figure out how to communicate with one another among their various disciplines (recognizing that the vernacular used by one discipline might be alien to others) and best communicate results to their client, then develop a task list and timetable so they can accomplish all this within the semester!
Describe your ideal student
Inquisitive, motivated, unafraid to ask questions and share concerns.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus:
Listening to fine fellows playing bluegrass in front of the Ecology/Warnell pond on Wednesday afternoons, concerts at the Performing Arts Center, swimming laps at Legion Pool, quick lunchtime mountain bike trek through the Oconee Forest Park at the intramural fields, and being on the ecology courtyard on First Fridays, when graduate students and faculty informally gather.
Beyond the UGA campus I like to …
… bike, hike, paddle, travel and visit with friends and family.
Favorite movie (and why)?
It used to be “My Brilliant Career”because it really captured my feeling that it was important for me to have a great one! I love “Darius Goes West”—my younger son was in it, my older son helped with outreach on it, and I love Darius and all the other members of the crew. I also appreciate the very inspirational “Murderball.” I enjoy both movies and reading a lot! Literary mysteries are among my favorites; Inspector Gamache is my latest.
Proudest moment at UGA
There have been many, and they usually involve the adoption of a policy or law my students have developed.
(Published on Feb. 23, 2014)