Monday, February 6, 2012

Treehouse Chats

Thom Mistele (back left) w/ greenmomster's gang
Actors have The Actor’s Studio, the Redskins have the Redskins Report, and politicians have Meet the Press.  Now the greenmomster’s got Treehouse Chats, a once-a-month introduction to someone working or volunteering in the environmental field.  First up, my good friend Thom Mistele!  Thom and I went to college (College of William and Mary, where he got a BS in Biology) and grad school together (Master of Environmental Management).  Then Thom decided to get an additional MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill.  He’s been teaching people about the environment since our school days, and I think you’ll find his ideas and attitude as inspiring as I do!
What is your current job and what do you like best about it?
I am a science teacher at a large, regional (i.e. rural) public high school in western New Jersey. I teach biology (all levels except A.P.) and A.P. Environmental Science.
I do not have one thing about the job that I like; I have several. Here's the list that comes to mind today:
  • I love the energy that the kids have and the humor that they bring to school every day. They may not bring their homework, and they can be frustrating at times, but the kids here make me laugh every day. One day, I was laughing so hard that I could not speak, and tears were running down my face. Those kids still remind me that they made a teacher cry - and it was five years ago!
  • I love knowing that I have a job that makes a difference in the lives of my students. My students don't have to like biology, and several arrive specifically not liking it. But by the end of the course, I count as victories the feedback I get, such as "This didn't suck" or "I never thought about ___ like that before." At the A.P. level, I try to get feedback from former students after one and two years of college. Most appreciate the vast scope of our A.P. curriculum (after the fact) and rattle off how many of their college courses, both science and easy (i.e. contain references to materials we studied together in high school.
  • I love that I have a job that allows me to continually learn new things. The field of biology changes all the time, so I get to try to keep on top of all the changes. Emphasis is on "try."
What is your favorite activity outside of work? (green or not green)
My favorite activity outside of work is birding, as it affords me plenty of time outdoors and involves other passions, like hiking and photography.  My county's Parks & Recreation Department has a very active birding program with monthly trips to NJ/NY/PA bird hotspots.   I can spend hours at home watching the feeders in my backyard, especially during and after a snow storm. 
Do you do any environmental volunteering outside of work?
I help the county maintain/monitor bluebird nesting boxes by doing an annual winter clean-out of the boxes, recording of species using the boxes by nest type, and minor maintenance.  
Favorite environmental book?
I hate picking favorites.  Here are a few I have enjoyed in recent years and assigned to my A.P. students:
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman
  • Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
What place most inspires you to keep working for the environment?
I love our National Park system, and my goal is to visit each of the "major" parks (50+) and many of the National Monuments (some of which are huge).  When I am in these parks, I am inspired by the work being done by the rangers, educators, and other professionals to teach people about our natural heritage.   Last summer, I spent three weeks in Alaska, my jaw dropping many times at the sheer scope and beauty of that state and its amazing wildlife.  I have similar feelings for Grand Teton National Park  and the Colorado National Monument. 
One green tip for blog readers?
My students sometimes get down about all the negative case studies, news articles, and problems associated with environmental science that I teach them.  So I tell them what I am going to tell you - don't lose heart.  The news media bombard us with stories of environmental disasters, "environment-last" politics and  legislation, vanishing black rhinos, and gender-bending fish and amphibians.  But there are success stories out there, waiting to be written by people like us (like the Green Momster!).  So don't lose heart.  Speak your mind, vote your conscience, make a difference in countless small ways.  Help that turtle across the road, teach your kids about the amazing migration of monarch butterflies, buy something locally-produced or certified as fair-trade, ride your bike, recycle, pick up litter -- all these things are important, even more so when you do them with a friend or your family. 


  1. Desiree,
    Enjoyed the write-up about Thom and his ideas but you forgot to mention you both received your Masters from Duke U.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the write-up! I did forget to mention Duke -- ah well, they get their air play during b-ball season :)