From the time she was a little girl, Christine Feurt, PhD ’07 loved the ocean and the beach. She grew up reading Rachel Carson and watching Jacques Cousteau, and her family often spent time on Florida beaches while her father worked in the space program.
It’s no surprise that she wanted to be a marine biologist when she grew up. But, prone to seasickness, she gravitated to coastal studies instead. These days, Chris is the Coastal Training Program Coordinator for the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, a National Estuarine Reserve in Wells, Maine. She’s also the director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of New England, where she lectures, teaching Introduction to Environmental Issues, Environmental Communication and Sustaining Water.
Chris’ main work is in collaborative learning to accomplish ecosystem-based management. She brings together people from different disciplines and viewpoints, creating networks so they can share scientific information and expertise and, ultimately, to protect the natural resources that are important to them.
Right now, she’s working on three projects: Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative, Saco River Estuary Project, and Sustaining Coastal Landscapes and Community Benefits. In each, she facilitates the exchange of information that is crucial to their success.
A Peripatetic Environmental Career
Chris studied zoology at the University of Maryland and coastal ecology at The College of William and Mary, working at Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia and Maryland during the summers. While in graduate school, she started working at national parks, and spent eleven years with the National Park Service in five coastal parks, including two years as a ranger and biologist at Everglades National Park.
While working at Big Thicket National Park in Texas, she met her husband, who was working at a neighboring wildlife refuge. She also worked for the University of New Mexico, the U.S. Army and, after moving to Massachusetts in 1990, as an environmental consultant. In 1995, she and her husband moved to Maine, where Chris began teaching at University of New England.
The Draw of AUNE
Seeking a path to a more secure teaching position, Chris began considering a graduate degree. Intrigued by some flyers she got in the mail from Antioch University New England (AUNE), she attended an informational meeting on the environmental studies program, where she met former faculty members Mitch Thomashow and Tom Webler. “Their competence, expertise and reputation in the world of environmental studies, humanities and social science was what I was looking for in a graduate school,” she said. “I had a strong background in ecological science and came to Antioch to build skills in social science in order to apply a holistic perspective to ecosystem-based management.”
She also appreciated how the program allowed her to pursue her own research. “The quality of faculty and support of my research questions-that’s what attracted me.”
Chris got her start at the Wells Reserve while looking for a service project to undertake at AUNE. She happened to bump into the manager of the Wells Reserve on her street and asked if he could help her. He could, and she ended up hired as coordinator and doing her dissertation research based on Wells Reserve. In her dissertation, using collaborative learning, she developed a methodology for community based ecosystem management.
At AUNE, the program’s delivery model allowed her to integrate her studies with her working life and family life, although classroom time was critical. “The face time, working with a cohort of professionals who still keep in touch with each other, made it very powerful,” she said.