Posted on January 28, 2008 in Perspectives
By Laura Fellows
Free Press: Why did you decide to become a professor?
Robert Sanford: Too weak to work and too nervous to steal. That’s what my dad said. Seriously, I’m not interested in making a lot of money. I’m optimistic that education is the best way to make a change. It was a mid-career change for me to go into full-time teaching.
I’d teach one to two classes, then USM decided to create the environmental science program. The major arose out of a desire for social good. If you could ask what I wanted to do for a living, this is what I’d do-it’s rare that you get a chance to do that. The colleagues here are great. Our students and faculty will sit out and eat lunch together, and that’s a nice thing to have.
FP: What do you like best about USM?
RS: Teaching, working with students. I was a non-traditional student-I was married when I was a sophomore. There are a lot of students here who don’t follow the traditional path. I’d rather teach here than at an Ivy League. I like the fact that all my students are undergraduates, that my department believes in integrating research with teaching.
FP: If you could change any law pertaining to the environment, what would it be?
RS: What I would try to do is change how political appointments come in and try to undo what previous administrations have done. I’d like to have law above political administration.
FP: What’s one practical thing that any student can do to be more environmentally-friendly?
RS: Be mindful of where they are. It’s like noticing people-you take time to notice them as individuals. Our job is to help show students tools and pathways to help.
FP: What is your favorite book?
RS: Wow. Do I give the intellectual answer, or say the Gary Larson Collector’s Edition? I’ve got the two-volume set of all of them. I think humor is an important tool in life and teaching. It gives added perspective. And any time you have added perspective, you have a better chance of understanding, and in science, you really want to understand things.
FP: What kind of vehicle do you drive?
RS: Well, I drive a couple. In summer when the weather’s good, I have a bicycle. I have a Honda scooter that gets 60 miles to the gallon. I also drive a 4-cylinder Toyota. It helps with things like kayaking. This department is very into the outdoors – we all do field work.
FP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell students about environmental science?
RS: We mix the theory and ideology with pragmatic practice. We’re a technical and applied field, but we still talk about Thoreau and Muir. We like to make change instead of just think about it. All our students do internships, and some have had them turn into job offers-it’s really exciting.
I think it’s important for students to study things they have a passion for. I see the departments as colors on a pallet-we don’t have to compete. It’s our job as advisors to help students do what they want. In the real world, things aren’t sorted into nice little categories as we want them to be.