The famed pop-culture game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is founded on the premise that the lanky “Footloose” stepper has so saturated the film industry that his screen appearances can be connected with any other actor’s within six steps.
In the Monadnock Region, the same might be said about Antioch graduates because of one simple reality:
“There are a number of Antioch grads doing a lot of interesting things in the community,” he said. “Antioch has contributed a lot … in helping with greening Keene.”
One such graduate is Amanda J. Costello, district manager of the Cheshire County Conservation District in Walpole, who earned her master’s degree in environmental education in 2007.
Costello works to enhance land conservation efforts in the county and strengthen the viability of working farm and forest lands. One of her current projects, she said, is installing rain gardens in Keene to help protect surface waters.
And a look at this week’s Sentinel environment calendar, gives a glimpse at how involved she is in the local environmental scene.
Costello’s partner, Jeffry Littleton, is also an Antioch graduate and heads Chesterfield consulting firm Moosewood Ecological. Through the company, Littleton has worked for a number of local clients. His many projects have included helping the city of Keene prioritize stream areas for conservation and develop a restoration plan for Beaver Brook. Littleton has also assisted the Chesterfield Conservation Commission in creating a new natural resource inventory.
Duncan P. Watson earned a master’s degree in resource management and administration from Antioch in 1992 before becoming Keene’s assistant public works director, solid waste manager and recycling coordinator.
As a member of the city’s staff, Watson took a leadership role in vastly expanding recycling in Keene. He also pushed for harnessing the city’s landfill gas emissions to make electricity, a project that’s helped Keene earn its stripes as a green leader.
About 7 miles away from the Keene transfer station is Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory, which provides assistance for area ecological research projects by linking volunteers with scientists.
The nonprofit organization is staffed by two Antioch graduates, Executive Director David M. Moon and Science Director Brett Amy Thelen.
Other local environmental organizations that count Antioch alumni heavily among their ranks are the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock and Keene’s Monadnock Conservancy.
“I moved to this area in the fall of 2000 when I began the conservation biology program at Antioch,” Anne McBride, Monadnock Conservancy’s conservation project manager, wrote in an e-mail. “Like many others, I fell in love with the area and didn’t want to move anywhere else.
“This makes job hunting in the environmental field extremely difficult in this area because there are so many qualified candidates,” she wrote.
McBride’s colleague, Stewardship Manager Emily P.M. Hague, also earned a degree from Antioch. Like Watson and Costello, Hague serves on the Cities for Climate Protection Committee, a Keene group that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.
Hague is also a member of a board of supervisors that advises the Cheshire County Conservation District.
Sitting with her on that committee is Antioch staff member and graduate Michele Chalice Throop, who’s married to fellow Antioch alumnus, former Antioch professor and Monadnock Conservancy Project Director Peter T. Throop.
With a laugh, former Antioch professor and Harris Center Director H. Meade Cadot—who sits with Peter Throop on the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory’s board of directors—summed it up as follows:
“We’re all inbred here.”
Students are in on the act, too.
But Antioch’s role in the area’s green scene isn’t limited to the work of its alumni, as evidenced by the scores of students who have worked on projects throughout the region.
James S. Gruber is a professor in Antioch’s environmental studies department and co-founded the Antioch New England Institute.
The institute promotes sustainability through community outreach. Projects the institute either spearheads or is participating in include the management of Keene’s Horatio Colony Nature Preserve, the development of a recycling-based waste management program in Sullivan County and the greenhouse gas-busting initiative Cool Monadnock.
“During my 15 years with the (Antioch New England Institute), approximately 150 students have done community service work in environmental areas,” Gruber wrote in an e-mail. “This includes projects such as the initiation of the bike path system in Keene (and) a plethora of school-community environmental education programs …”
One reason Antioch environmental studies students are so involved in the community is a requirement they complete 600 hours of fieldwork before graduating, according to Gruber, who said many choose to do that work here.
Similar requirements extend across Antioch’s departments as part of the university’s commitment to community service, said Laura Andrews, co-director of admissions. The same is true, she said, of all six campuses that comprise the Antioch university system.
Local professionals in the conservation and ecology sector say they rely heavily on this pool of people.
“For me, it’s been absolutely essential,” said Hague, who said the Monadnock Conservancy’s interns have helped with a variety of jobs including monitoring land easements and record-keeping.
With rising conservation awareness and increased land development pressures, Hague said, “We’ve been growing relatively fast, and sometimes, in lieu of staff, it’s been really key to have interns available.”
Cadot said the Harris Center’s also used many Antioch interns throughout the years. And at the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory, Moon said Antioch students are put to work doing everything from computer mapping to grant writing.
Through Antioch’s Advocacy Clinic, a service-learning course, students helped pilot—and continue to work on—The 10 Percent Challenge in Keene.
The program, through which Elm City businesses pledge to reduce their carbon emissions by 10 percent, is a partnership between ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, Clean Air-Cool Planet and Keene’s Cities for Climate Protection Committee.
Antioch students have also led local research projects as part of their thesis and dissertation work.
Examples in recent years include Kenneth Klapper’s studies on the declining population of nighthawks in the Northeast and Christine E. Volonte’s collection of data on saw-whet owls.
The Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory assisted in both of these two projects.
“Whether (students are) doing research that can benefit from our volunteers or whether they need to get experience doing this kind of work, there’s been a really good match there,” Moon said.
Meanwhile, he added, the faculty of the Environmental Studies department—many of whom are Antioch graduates themselves—has also proven a valuable resource.
Antioch’s director of conservation biology, Jon L. Atwood, for example, is “an integral part in any of the bird work we’ve done,” Moon said.
While many of Keene’s initiatives can’t be attributed solely to Antioch students, City Councilor Duffy said, “I think they bring a lot of energy and commitment in the things they do.”
And, he added, “It says a lot about Keene that so many Antioch grads would like to stay around.”
For this, Antioch New England Institute Interim Director John C. “Jack” Calhoun 4th referenced the fictional enchanted Scottish village whose inhabitants are bound to stay there forever.
“Once they come to Brigadoon,” he mused, “it’s pretty hard to leave, I guess.”
Anika Clark can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1432, or [email protected]
Reprinted with permission from The Keene Sentinel