The task of 'saving the world' is a daunting one. Pessimism and negativity are common themes for those working in the area of environmental conservation and protection. It is understandable that many would be unable to find hope or positivity under the current reality of climate change taking place on an already fragile planet. Dr. Dann Sklarew is a shining light in this field, not only because of his many incredible accomplishments, but because of his determination and drive to focus on the possibilities and opportunities for learning rather than getting stuck agonizing over the problems.
Dr. Sklarew began his career with Mason as a summer student in the eighties. In the fall of 1994, he enrolled in the Environmental Biology and Public Policy doctoral program. After earning his PhD in 2000, he went on to work with the United Nations for the Global Environmental Facility. This organization is a partnership to address global-scale environmental problems. His focus was on facilitating the stewardship of fresh and marine waters from each region of the world. His work involved bringing various countries together through conferences, workshops, and websites to advance the health, care, and management of places like the Black and Caribbean seas, Lake Chad, the Mekong River and the South Pacific Ocean.
In the fall of 2008, he returned to Mason as an Associate Professor for the Environmental Science and Policy Department. Additionally, he is the Associate Director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center . Through his leadership, the PEREC is providing watershed education to thousands of area middle and high school students each year. This past year he was appointed Fellow of Sustainability Studies for the Office of the Provost. In this role, Dr. Sklarew is responsible for promoting the integration of sustainability-related activities and substance into Mason's curricula and research. He also works very closely with the Office of Sustainability on a wide variety of sustainability-related events and learning opportunities.
The work that Dr. Sklarew is doing at Mason is a true inspiration. He oversees a PEREC watershed stewardship program for Fairfax and Prince William counties' middle and high school. With grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Bay Watershed and Education Training (B-WET) initiative, Dr. Sklarew was able to hire almost 50 employees (about half are either Mason students or alumni) for this exciting venture. Over thirteen thousand middle and high school students will be educated through this program by June 2011. Dr. Sklarew hopes that at least some of these students will consider one of Mason's fantastic environmental programs when applying for colleges. Mason's College of Science has also shown its support for the B-WET program by funding the purchase of pens (made out of recycled material) inscribed with "What's in our water?" and the program's web site, water.gmu.edu
Dr. Sklarew is currently working with four Mason graduate students to develop a Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory for Fairfax County. The report will account for energy use from both mobile and stationary sources for the 2006-2009 period. This is the first time that Fairfax County has undertaken this type of project, in order to lay the basis for thinking about next steps to lower those emissions through various conservation-related efforts. Dr. Sklarew was also instrumental in preparing Mason's first-ever Greenhouse Gas Inventory and then later, Mason's first Climate Action Plan (published in January 2010).
To assist the Office of Sustainability with compiling the plan, he created a Climate Action Planning and Energy Strategies course. This course created an opportunity for Mason students to play a role in creating, assessing, and analyzing possibilities for lowering Mason's emissions. He has also developed a distance course in Ecology, in order to offer his graduate students the chance to study with a smaller ecological footprint – from as far away as Iraq. This has been quite an impressive feat, as Ecology is primarily considered a very hands-on subject. Dr. Sklarew tasked other students with creating their own sustainable business plans, pursuing "action research" to promote community sustainability, and assembling source materials for a textbook on Environment and Development in East Asia. In the academic realm, Dr. Sklarew is extremely active!
As Sustainability Fellow, he manages Mason's sustainabilitystudies.gmu.edu web site, which provides students with quick access to information on a variety of sustainability-related academic programs and activities. He is actively involved in the delivery of several of these programs, including the new Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Bachelor of Arts in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, as well as the Minor in Sustainability Studies (which he co-directs). On the collaborative front, Dr. Sklarew has also worked with a team of faculty members to facilitate creation of Mason's new Masters of Integrated Studies (MAIS) degree concentration in Energy and Sustainability. He and his colleagues are now exploring the possibility of creating a graduate degree program in Environmental Education, and perhaps another focused on Sustainability Science. Earth Week (April 18th-22nd) provides many opportunities for the sustainability-minded community to really shine. Dr. Sklarew has been working with representatives across all of Mason's campuses to really make Earth Week an unforgettable and exciting event, in his words, "Mason's best Earth Week ever!" Currently there are over 25 sustainability-related events planned across three Mason campuses during that fortnight. Dr. Sklarew is co-organizing events on the theme of "Innovating for Sustainability" at each campus. These events will feature innovations and research depicting Mason and its communities' roles as local and global leaders in sustainability. His Sustainability in Action students are also contributing to Earth Week organization. (A full calendar of Earth Week events can be found on the Office of Sustainability web site.)
When asked about what policy or process he might change at Mason relating to sustainability, Dr. Sklarew gave several answers, "I would require that all forms on campus be offered electronically (by default) and printing be done on an exceptional basis." For building on campus, he would love to see "Mason's master plan and building codes assess a variety of potential sustainability features for all new buildings (and renovations) - not just building for LEED Silver certification."
Additionally, he would like to see all students given the opportunity to "grapple with sustainability issues while at Mason." This would include taking a sustainability-related course, getting involved with pertinent co-curricular or extra-curricular activities, assessing their own lifestyles, and making adjustments to reduce their own ecological footprint. When asked, "What things do you recommend people at Mason do to have a positive impact on the environment?" Dr. Sklarew replied, "If it works for you and your schedule, take a distance education course, buy for durability or reusability, take advantage of healthy options for commuting and getting around campus, and (last but certainly not least) go outside!"
When he's not at Mason, Dr. Sklarew is a very active community member, as evident by the fact that he serves as a member of the Steering Committee for NoVA Outside. NoVA Outside is, an alliance of environmental educators in the Northern Virginia region. Additionally, he serves on several other local environmental committees, such as the Arlington Chamber of Commerce's Green Business Committee and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Climate, Energy and Environmental Policy Committee.
When asked, "What motivates you to be environmentally friendly?" Dr. Sklarew answered, "Sustaining our environmental commons is something that can bring people together. Bringing people together to make the world a better place is an important part of my life mission. For me, having kids really multiplied this sense of mission by a million!" He realizes that our activities now will create very significant impacts on his children and their generation. Lastly, he says that he likes a challenge, and adds, "Although I can't reverse climate change, I hope to at least have a positive impact on the current and future generations' dealing with it by providing them education and understanding about how to act."
It is difficult not to feel inspired and energized by all of the enthusiasm that Dr. Sklarew has for the environment. Several of the students in his sustainability capstone course have already begun to show that Dr. Sklarew's approach to creating environmental stewards works – as many of them are initiating high-impact, sustainability-related projects for Mason. Dr. Sklarew explains, "I hope to provide the next generation with a valid understanding of and appreciation for our environment, in order to value, protect, and sustain its benefits indefinitely."