When Tom Springer (M.A. 2002) applied for his new position as managing director of the Environmental Change Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, he wondered if he’d have enough of a science background to qualify.
The initiative works with a network of 40 Notre Dame faculty who research environmental problems related to climate change. Their recent focus has been on land use, invasive species and adaptability to climate-related issues such as floods, droughts and super storms. The program brings multi-discipline teams together and helps them find funding and then communicate their results to the public and policy makers.
“The more I looked at the position, the more I realized that Notre Dame didn’t need another scientist for this position,” Springer said. “They needed someone who could translate research findings about the environment into a strong narrative that will makes sense to a lay audience. And that’s basically what I learned to do during my master’s program at the MSU’s Knight Center.”
Before joining Notre Dame, Springer worked 27 years at the Kellogg Foundation. He wore numerous hats there, writing books and annual reports, producing videos, editing a magazine, writing speeches for the CEO and managing research projects about topics such as sustainable agriculture, racial equity and outdoor education for youth.
As a freelancer, he wrote “Looking for Hickories” a collection of essays about the people and rural landscapes of southwest Michigan that was published by University of Michigan Press in 2008.
“I first developed ‘Looking for Hickories’ as my master’s project at MSU,” Springer recalled. “The fact that a journalist could write first-person essays was a big-eye opener for me. I wouldn’t have considered it had it not been for the encouragement I received from (MSU School of Journalism professors) Howard Bossen and Eric Freedman. They expanded my notion of what a journalist could be.”
Springer says he’s eager to work with researchers who focus not just on environmental problems, but solutions that can lessen their impact on the world’s most poor and vulnerable:
“This is a great time to be at Notre Dame, because the writings and leadership of Pope Francis have called new attention to the moral dimensions of climate change and ecological damage. As a Catholic, that call resonates with me personally. Yet I also believe that focusing on the human impact of climate change is one that people of goodwill everywhere can embrace.”