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Professor Spotlight: Dr. James Farmer

farmerAs with any major, you should explore courses outside the realm of your expertise. I was excited/hesitant when I originally registered for Integrated Resource Management (SPH-O 305) but after the first day, my hesitance won. The professor, Dr. James Farmer, made note to talk to the non-majors (in a predominately outdoor rec class) and easily convinced me to take his other course, Human Health in Natural Environments (SPH-O 360). This class focuses on the health implications of agricultural practices, nature as an antidote, mountaintop removal, and city life. It also includes a field experience trip which was probably one of the highlights of my college career. Although there is quite a hefty amount of reading, the books and articles have collectively shaped my perspective on health… making this the perfect course. I am forever grateful for that simple recommendation because through his course and his teaching, I have finally realized how I want to influence the world in public health.

I have asked Dr. Farmer the following questions which I hope will shed light on his enthusiasm and allow students to know their professor in a deeper way.

When did your connection to the outdoors truly begin?

My connection to the outdoors began as a child- growing up on a wooded, rural property with woods, fallow fields, creeks, etc. to play in. Later, being in cub scouts fostered a love for camping, followed by hunting in high school, and then working as a residential camp counselor at a primitive summer camp in Brown County, IN.

How has outdoor recreation impacted your life?

I don’t know if I would say outdoor recreation in a proper sense has necessarily had a profound impact on my life, rather, having unstructured free time in the outdoors to experience free play as a child was of greatest consequence. Maybe it is the academic in me distinguishing the two. Early life experiences in natural settings, living in one growing up, and working at a summer camp have probably caused me to want to live in the woods and study, participate in, and teach about environmental issues. Sure, I have quite enjoyed outdoor recreation activities like mountain biking, backpacking, nature photography, canoeing in the Boundary Waters, etc., however, it is the constant living in and with nature that fills my soul.

Are there any misconceptions about this major that you would like to debunk?

Yes, a few. But I think the important thing is to focus on what the major is rather than what it is not. The major is for students seeking an in depth study of nature, natural areas, rural landscapes, and the environment. It is the study of natural history and the management that occurs in natural landscapes (both managing humans and the environment). It is the study of the human experience in natural settings, how to facilitate that experience, how to use the opportunity as a tool for education, self-improvement, and re-creation. Our classes are incredibly experiential. Most of our classes have weekly field lab components that position the educational experience in and around the wealth of public lands in southern Indiana, while other classes make use of the National Parks and Forests near and far. We have two intensive-immersion semesters for students to develop cohorts, in depth knowledge, professional skills, and to gain real world experience through an in depth study of the major’s focal areas. One is CORE and the other is the Semester in the Environment.


If you could create your ideal academic course, what would it be called and what concepts would be taught?

While at Marshall University in WV I did create my ideal course in collaboration with an English professor. It was entitled “Hobbits in Appalachia: Sustainability Issues in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.” The class explored the plethora of environmental and sustainable development issues occurring in the region and used Tolkien’s works as a metaphorical way to link the humanities, ecology, and the social sciences to human land use activities. We had monthly field labs at reclaimed coalmine facilities, restored watersheds, sustainable farms, etc. The big picture topic we taught is that not everything is so black and white, that the issues are complex, and the significance of collective action is fundamental to achieving a balance.

What message do you hope students take away from your courses?

Individually we can make a difference; collectively we can make change.

What advice do you wish you would have known as an undergraduate?

Get involved and find your niche, particularly at a big school like IU. Find a student group, get a part time job, or join some sort of cause.

Which environmental issue interests you the most?

Climate change- hands down. Humanity has never faced a greater threat, challenge, or task than dealing with climate change.

Have you modified certain aspects of your daily life to be more sustainable? If so, how?

I gave up meat, replaced my Toyota Tundra with a Pontiac Vibe and bicycle, and moved closer to town. The interesting fact about diet is that I was able to lower my carbon footprint more by giving up meat than by changing from a truck to a compact car.

(Assuming you watch Parks & Recreation) Who is your favorite character and why?

I have never watched a full episode and can’t name any of the characters. I recently watched the series- Newsroom. My favorite character was Charlie Skinner played by Sam Waterston.

What is your favorite aspect of the Bloomington Farmer’s Market?

What it has done to popularize the importance of food, food production, and thinking local.

unnamedShannen Keene is a senior from Ellettsville, IN pursuing a degree in Community Health. Bloomington has taught her the value of diversity, culture, and good food. After graduation, she hopes to venture out West to serve for AmeriCorps then apply to an urban planning graduate program.



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IUSPH Career Services

Job opportunities for Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington majors are diverse and expanding as the emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle grows around the world. Career Services experts in each of our academic departments will provide one-on-one counseling and career building opportunities throughout your academic career, from choosing the right major to developing a strategy to find a job. They can assist you with:

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