Wayne A. Freimund, 41, is an associate professor of wilderness studies at the University of Montana in Missoula and director of the university's Wilderness Institute. Freimund teaches upper level and graduate courses and has helped develop management plans for national parks from British Columbia to South Africa.
The last eight years for me have probably been typical of someone finishing a Ph.D., starting a new job, and moving to a new place.
You work like crazy to get your doctorate, and that's just the entry level. Then there's a 6- or 7-year probationary period where you develop your skills as a teacher and scientist and as somebody involved in trying to contribute to the university and your community.
It's a very busy and demanding environment to step into, but it's absolutely exciting. Every year, you get new students -- optimistic, energetic, idealistic people -- coming into your life.
I've seen a bit of change in the students. I think they are becoming a bit more pragmatic. There's a savvy-ness to them I like. They're very engaged in current events and natural resource issues, but they're also concerned about what college costs, how they're going to pay for it, and what kind of jobs they're going to get. They're not just idling to support their ski habit.
If there's a dramatic change I've seen, it's got to be the way the Internet has affected the exchange and creation of information. It's opened up such an opportunity to compete and interact at the global level and define themselves with experiences that could be exported anywhere.
It used to be, as the one at the podium, you were the filter for that information. But now so much is available that the students are going to get it with or without you. Quality control is an issue, but by and large it's been very good. And we're able to keep up with events around the world that are relevant to us up here on a daily basis. And that's dramatic. Absolutely dramatic.
We have students now doing presentations with PowerPoint and using census data, photo image manipulation, editing -- all sorts of tools that didn't exist when I was an undergraduate. If you've been out of college 15 years, it's difficult to understand what they're doing now.
I've also seen this community change dramatically. Montana's been "found," not like Colorado was 20 years ago, but something like it. We're seeing a lot of retirements and a lot of migration in this direction. People are looking for a change, a slower pace, and not necessarily finding it. A lot of them stay about three years and then move on. They find it hard to make real their idea of what the West is.
I think President Clinton has been relatively progressive in thinking long term about environmental issues and in terms of holistic natural resource management. Certainly in the realm of national parks and wilderness, the Clinton administration has been interested and thoughtful about policies that would show some restraint on how fast we develop things.
I think we've also got to give him a little credit for how good the economy has been, and for wanting to get schools hooked up on the Internet. I give him fairly good marks.
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