Lindsey Smith, a Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, is a biological anthropologist whose work explores various aspects of ecology, conservation, social behavior, and cognition in primates. She teaches writing-intensive courses that explore human uniqueness, and tropical ecology and conservation field courses in Mexico and Nicaragua.
Mike Dimpfl, a Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, is a cultural geographer whose work explores connections between the body, the environment, and social inequality. His courses focus on waste – garbage, wastewater, toxins, and dirty work – and their overlap with environmental and social justice challenges in the contemporary U.S.
What are your backgrounds?
MD: After college I spent a decade living in Brooklyn and working for two HIV/AIDS service organizations. In my off-hours I was a committed community gardener – which eventually drew me back to graduate school to earn an MS in environmental studies and a PhD in geography. My research is concerned with the connection between human communities and different kinds of non-human life and environments. I work on understanding why relationships between humans and the natural world are contested spaces of power and meaning.
LS: My background is in evolutionary anthropology, so my work has examined many facets of primate behavior, communication, ecology, and conservation. Ask me how many times I’ve been to the Duke Lemur Center! I love to travel and my research has taken me to zoos and safari parks across the United States, as well as Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Kenya.
Why are you leading the DukeEngage Portland program this year?
LS: This program is going to be amazing! I’ve visited Portland several times and I think it is the perfect place for students to learn about urban environmentalism and conservation. The city is vibrant, the community partners are doing important work, and I’m so excited to be introducing students to environmental issues through the lens of this particular city. Portland has a lot of character and I’m looking forward to exploring the city and the beautiful parks, forests, and beaches just outside the city.
MD: I think it is important to understand how American cities have particular relationships to their surroundings – the built environment, the “natural” world, and the diverse ecosystems they contain. In a world increasingly upended by climate change and political volatility, these relationships require careful stewardship in service of building a more equitable future for everyone. DukeEngage Portland is a program that looks at these complexities and provides real-world experience for students interested in understanding the connections between and among the range of living communities that make cities such dynamic spaces.
What stands out to you about the agencies students will be working with in Portland?
MD: One great thing is the diversity of their missions. For me, this does two important things. First, it illustrates the ways in which questions of conservation – particularly in urban spaces and their surrounding ecosystems – are as diverse as the people and other living things that occupy those spaces. Second, it means that if students talk about their experiences with others in the program, they will be exposed to an incredibly diverse array of practices that seek to address the complexity of conservation challenges facing cities today.
LS: Our community partners represent so many different aspects of urban environmentalism and conservation – students can learn about the importance of green spaces in cities, gain hands-on experience in wildlife conservation, get a taste of environmental law, etc. If you are interested in learning more about conservation or environmental issues and getting a taste of a potential career interest in a cool city, this program is for you!
What are you excited about doing in Portland?
LS: Portland is such a unique city. There is a strong food and coffee culture, lots of green spaces and markets – there is so much to explore. And it’s very walkable (and bikeable!) city, so it’s easy to access everything the city has to offer. I’m excited about getting out with students and learning the ins and outs of the city while also taking some amazing trips outside of the city to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds the urban environment.
MD: The list of things I’m excited to do in Portland grows longer every day. I’m excited to eat in the city that loves a food truck rodeo. I’m a lover of live music and excited to go to shows (and dig in the dollar bins for records). I can’t wait to walk the city, go to the museums, and spend time in the city’s green spaces. Mostly, I look forward to the vibrancy of daily life. The sounds of the bus, the streetcars, the foot traffic, the street vendors and general noise: there is something to be said for simply being in a city and letting it reveal itself to you. I’m grateful to have the time to explore and look forward to sharing that with the students in the program.
Have you taken students on trips before? What good things have come out of that?
LS: Working with students outside of the classroom is something I really enjoy and try to do as much as possible. I’ve taken a group of high school students around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to study tropical conservation, and I’ve led a couple of month-long undergrad programs in Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, I taught students how to conduct research on howler monkey behavior and ecology and gave lectures in our outdoor classroom every evening. We also took some weekend trips to local sites like the San Ramon waterfall and the Maderas volcano. Nothing beats hands-on, experiential learning, so I’m excited to provide Duke students with the opportunity to get first-hand experience solving environmental problems alongside their community partners.
Is there anything else prospective students should know about you?
MD: Students should know that my goal is to make sure they make the most of their time in Portland. If students are willing to put in the effort, I know that we will have a great time learning and exploring together.
LS: I want everyone to maximize their time in Portland and enjoy the experience as much as possible! I’m looking forward to getting to know each student individually and helping them to accomplish their goals for the program. This will be a memorable summer!