John Wegner certainly looks the part of an environmentalist. His
hair is long. So is his beard. Sandals are his footwear of choice.
A leaf roughly the size of his head is taped to the bookcase in
But Wegner, director of undergraduate studies in the Department
of Environmental Studies, is not an environmentalist.
I distinguish between people who are environmentaliststhose
people tend to be against somethingand environmental
advocates, said Wegner, a senior lecturer. I tend
not to label myself as an environmentalist, more as an environmental
advocate, and I try to have a positive vision of how things could
So instead of chaining himself to the nearest oak or waving a placard
at every passing car, Wegner puts his environmental expertise to
good use and works to make Emory a betterand more ecologically
The University has changed dramatically since Ive been
here, said Wenger, who came to Emory in fall 1998. Weve
gotten a lot better and a lot more environmentally conscious, particularly
in the way we build buildings.
Wegner should know. Hes had a hand in several campus building
projects over the past few years. Wegners place at Emory is
unique. Not only is he a faculty member, but he also holds a staff
position as an environmental consultant in Facilities Management.
During the school year, Wegner is at FM (he has an office in Building
C) one day a week. Over the summer, he is at FM full-time. Prior
to this year, his work at FM was simply as a consultant, but this
year it is a paid position.
Having an office there is very important, he said.
Im more like a colleague and less an external threat.
You could imagine that relations between a person who has environmental
concerns [and FM] could be adversarial.
Wegner sat on the building committee for the Mathematics &
Science Center (formerly known as Science 2000, Phase II), which
will be completed this summer. In fact, he and the rest of the environmental
studies department will be all settled in their new home come the
Through the Committee on the Environment, an arm of University
Senate, Wegner also has participated in debates on projects ranging
from the University Apartments parking deck, to the Lullwater shuttle
road, Whitehead Research Building and now a parking deck and road
expansion at Yerkes.
While in most every case there has been vocal opposition to Emorys
building, development and expansionas is most often the case
outside the Emory campuswon out. However, with Wegners
voice, along with several others, as part of the discussion, those
planning that development took into account its effect on the environment
and adjusted accordingly.
For instance, the path of the shuttle road was changed in order
to minimize the impact on the forest. And the Mathematics &
Science Center has an atrium that will look out on the stand of
trees between the building and Oxford Road.
We stood out on the site and said, Couldnt we
use the trees for their amenity value? Wegner said.
People get a lot of pleasure from looking at a forest.
An ecosystem and landscape ecologist/conservation biologist by
training, Wegner teaches four classes in environmental studies,
each of which he created. Ecosystems of the Southeastern United
States is part lecture, part field trip. Each year, Wegner
and his students take weekend trips to visit a variety of ecosystems.
This year, they went to Sapelo Island, the Okeefenokee Swamp, the
rolling hills of Highlands, N.C., the Piedmont National Wildlife
Refuge near Forsyth, and the Joyce Kilmer National Forest in North
Carolina. Each experience, from swamp to old growth forest, was
The field portion was almost show and tell, Wegner
said. What is this? How does it survive? Is this a native
or nonnative species?
Wegners Ecology of Emory course grew out of the
work he does for FM. I can learn about things in Facilities
Management, then I can teach them to my students, he said.
While students perform some lab work in class, their labor also
helps the University. For instance, Wegner and James Johnson, project
manager in Campus Planning, have been constructing a vegetation
map of the campus, and students assist in that effort. Recently,
that project has climbed to another level. Wegners students
are mapping and identifying individual trees on campus and studying
their characteristics such as age and health.
Students who sign up for the course also perform environmental
audits, looking at criteria such as energy and water use and recycling
frequency. Not only do students learn practical environmental skills,
but Wegner can pass the data they collect over to FM so that Emorys
environmental policies and practices can be adjusted, if necessary.
Wegners other classes are Ecosystem Ecology and
Service Learning, a title the professor himself described
Its less a course and more a job, he continued.
His students perform practical studiesmost frequently with
waterwaysand try to identify pollutants as well as how to
control or stop their release.
This is their opportunity to apply what they have learned
throughout their undergraduate career to [solve] some practical
problem, Wegner said.
Wegners work with students does not end in the classroom.
He administrates the environmental studies internship program. He
also runs a LearnLink site that lists summer jobs, graduate opportunities
and permanent employment positions.
A native of LaPorte, Ind., a town of 30,000 tucked in between South
Bend and Gary, Wegner earned bachelors degrees in both political
science and zoology at Indiana University. For graduate school,
he went to Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont. He earned both a
masters (1976) and a doctorate (1995) in biology from Carleton,
and only returned to the United States for his Emory job.
Wegner half-jokingly called himself an American by birth and a
Canadian by choice (a Canadian flag hangs behind the door in his
office), and a Canadian accent is still detectable in his speech.
As far back as I can remember, before even starting school,
I spent time in the woods and marshes and lakes where I grew up,
Wegner said about his interest in the environment. Its
something thats been part of my being since early childhood.
Wegner and his wife lived about an hour south of Ottawa (and about
10 minutes from the New York border), where he farmed sheep while
he wasnt teaching classes at Carleton. It was a vocation he
sort of backed into.
When I started farming, I didnt know what I was doing,
he said. Youve got neighbors, but they dont tell
you what to do. There are ways to learn, though. I just watched
them, and by the time I stopped farming, the vet told me he was
afraid when I phoned. If I phoned and said I had a problem, he didnt
want to comeit was something really serious.