Practicing What He Preaches: Environmental Science chair hits the road


Michael Vorwerk, Ph.D., has used his role as 14-year head of the Environmental Science Department to encourage students to get out and see the world. When his sabbatical began at the start of 2017, he practiced what he preached. “The time for a road trip just seemed right,” he says.

Spurred by a curiosity to discover the United States, Dr. Vorwerk and his wife, Karin, planned a journey that took them to all four corners of the country, including Key West, Florida; San Diego, California; Blaine, Washington; and Madawaska, Maine.

Throughout the journey, Dr. Vorwerk chronicled his experiences via a blog that was read globally. “Someone from the United Kingdom read 40 entries,” he says.

With 95 total posts at, Dr. Vorwerk highlights travel hardships—such as flash-floods, whiteout blizzards, and even sand storms—as well as treks to environmental meccas, such as Dry Falls in Washington State, once the largest waterfalls on earth, and Grand Coulee Dam, the biggest dam in the country.

There are also tales of wildlife, such as the buffalo in South Dakota that meandered through the Vorwerks’ campground yards away from their trailer, scratching themselves on hitching posts and picnic tables.

Dr. Vorwerk’s advice to students to get out in the world comes with an assist. He makes it part of his work to help students find interesting internships—in this region and beyond.

Emily Landon ’19 is one student to benefit. Last summer, she interned with the local Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee. “The experience had a big impact on me,” she says. “I’m amazed at how passionate people are about what they do here. They have turned their work into something that is truly meaningful and personally fulfilling.”

Melissa Higley ’17 interned last summer with the federal Bureau of Land Management in the Cody, Wyoming, Field Office for the Chicago Botanic Garden. She says, “Gaining field experience in my undergrad prepared me for my post-grad job search.”

Dr. Vorwerk says internships he located out of the region—many an output of the networking efforts of Robert Thompson, an adjunct faculty member—give students, some of whom have never left Massachusetts, a chance to explore.

Dr. Vorwerk and his wife pulled into their driveway at the end of their adventure on May 15. He typed one last blog post and is now focused on the current semester. “More than ever, I believe extensive travel is a necessary part of being an educated person in today’s shrinking world,” he says. “It’s irreplaceable for anyone hoping to understand
our environment.”


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