W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation in Action

Natalie DawsonNatalie Dawson is a research professor in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, the director of the Wilderness Institute and a professor of wilderness studies. She directs UM’s field-based environmental education program, leads an international course in Patagonia and works closely with agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct research on public land across Montana.She shares her excitement for the Franke gift and the impact on her work.

How does the Franke gift affect your work?

This gift gives us, as faculty, the flexibility to push into new creative realms and bring innovative ways to teach and present ideas to our students. I lead a course in Patagonia that is focused on natural resource conservation and cultural history. We study the ecology and the geography of the region, while immersed in the culture of the place. We work with in-country partners throughout the entire course, do activities in small communities, work on a forest restoration project, and then complete a ten-day hike through different types of landscape in Patagonia.

The W.A. Franke Sustainability Fellows Program will provide funding for students to study sustainability abroad, in places like Patagonia.

Why is an interdisciplinary environmental education vital in today’s global society?

Giving students the opportunity to engage with each other in situations where they have to think through problems critically and communicate effectively to carry an activity out to fruition is incredibly important. I think that has been, and should always be, the primary role of an educational institution.

Can you speak to the impact of the Frankes’ support on your students?

As someone who would not have gone to college had it not been for scholarships, I understand firsthand the importance of private support in making a college education more accessible.As an educator, I try to bring unique learning experiences to my students: opportunities to get them in the field, talking with the experts, as well as hands-on experiences and international travel. These experiences engage them with all aspects of their environment, from the social to the ecological realms and everything in between. The Frankes will help students realize these important experiences.

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