Faculty and Researchers

The Heller School for Social Policy and ManagementReturn to this website's homepageBrandeis University

Senior Lecturer

eolson@brandeis.edu  •  Heller-Brown Building  • 156  •  781-736-8363

Expertise

I describe here two areas of expertise.

First, in the context of my work here at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, and specifically in the Sustainable International Development Graduate Program in which I teach, I have developed expertise in adult education, and specifically in the teaching of basic scientific literacy to adults from an unusually broad range of educational, cultural, and language backgrounds. It is a unique challenge to do this in a way that does not stifle those with strong English skills and a ready grasp of scientific concepts, while also not losing those students that find many of these ideas completely foreign. Some of the topics I can now effectively teach in this way are: mechanisms accounting for global atmospheric circulation and climate; the key factors accounting for accelerating climate change; the sources and maintenance of soil fertility; the pathways of nitrogen through atmosphere, soils, and waterways; the impacts of large power dams and irrigation schemes on river channels and floodplains; the causes and consequences of "dead zones" off the world's coastlines; the impacts of invasive species on natural and agricultural systems; how insularity and small population size affect genetic diversity and risk of extinction over time; and research on the concept of 'keystone species' with a particular focus on the dramatic case study of wolf reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park. Excellence in teaching such a breadth of topics demands a more integrative view than is found in the conventional graduate eductation of academic scientists, and requires (in my view) a natural predilection to stay current in a wide variety of environmental disciplines.

My presentations, handouts, and reading packets continue to evolve but all strive to allow adult learners with little to no scientific background to quickly and confidently master those ecological concepts that lie at the core of sustainability of Earth's natural resources and environmental services.

Second, I have maintained a research focus on tropical forest food webs, specifically natural enemy, herbivorous insect, and host plant interactions. My most recent research in this area has taken place in the tropical dry forests of northwestern Costa Rica and southwestern Nicaragua. Because many invasive plants cannot serve as host plant for any insect in the habitats these plants are invading, I have added control strategies of invasive plants to this food web area of interest.

Courses

  • BIOL 32a - Field Biology
  • HS 207f - Ecology of Health
  • HS 220f - Renewable Energy for Development
  • HS 222f - Tourism and Development
  • HS 261a - Threats to Development: Climate Change
  • HS 264f - Principles of Ecology for Development Practitioners
  • HS 282f - Environmental Impact Assessment
  • HS 325f - The Right to Water
  • HS 800g - Proseminar
Eric  Olson's picture

Profile

I am a broadly trained ecologist with a PhD in evolutionary biology and ecology, specifically in the ecology of "tri-trophic" interactions: host plants, the insects that feed on these plants, and the wasps, birds, and other predators that feed on those insects. I have an MFS (Masters in Forest Science) as well, with a focus on the design and management of tropical parks and conservation areas; in this interest area I have developed some expertise in the way a particularly "enlightened" form of travel known as ecological tourism, or ecotourism, can aid conservation efforts. My main contribution here in the Sustainable International Development Graduate Program, with its remarkably diverse student body (over 60 nations represented in a typical year) is in teaching of basic scientific literacy to adults from an unusually broad range of educational, cultural, and language backgrounds. It is a unique challenge to do this in a way that does not stifle those with strong English skills and a ready grasp of scientific concepts, while also not losing those students that find many of these ideas completely foreign. I also teach courses in water & sanitation, climate change, ecotourism, environmental impact assessment, and environmental health.

In addition to my academic work I am the Chairman of the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy, and in this role I work with City of Newton (Massachusetts) staff and elected officials. My main contribution is closely monitoring the energy consumption across all sectors (transportation, municipal, residences, businesses and non-profits) and expressing this consumption in units of greenhouse gas emissions. Data each year come from a variety of sources e.g. for transportation from the Transportation Systems Analysis Group in Boston and from utilities for power and heating fuels.

 

Degrees

University of Pennsylvania
Ph.D.

Yale University
M.F.S.

Carleton College
B.A.

Awards and Honors

  • Charles Johnson Maynard Award from the Newton Conservators (2013)
  • "Faith in Action" Award from Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light (2010)
  • Excellence in Teaching Award, Heller School for Social Policy and Management (2010)

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