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Missionary Earthkeeping Conference: Speakers List Announced

Dec 10, 2012

Au Sable Institute has confirmed a full slate of speakers and sessions for its upcoming 'Missionary Earthkeeping' mini-conference for missions and development faculty directors from Christian colleges and universities. The Institute will be hosting the faculty-focused conference within the larger, student-run Faith and International Development Conference at Calvin College. Speakers will also lead breakout sessions for students on how their work in environmental sustainability is instrumental for alleviating poverty, improving health, advancing equality, and spreading the gospel.

Conference speakers include accomplished development practitioners, faculty researchers, and undergraduate educators with experience linking missions and development with environmental sustainability and conservation. Conference sessions will make explicit the theological and practical interconnections between creation care and missions and development and help faculty integrate essential courses in environmental sustainability into their college's missions or development program.

Conference speakers include:

Laura Meitzner Yoder, Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, Goshen College

Laura Meitzner Yoder is Associate Professor at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, where she directs the place-based, fieldwork-intensive interdisciplinary Sustainability Semester in Residence. For twelve years, she has worked in Latin America and Southeast Asia with development from the community level in agriculture to the regional and national government levels in land and forest policy. She taught in field-based research training programs at state universities in Papua and post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia, and conducted research in the fledgling nation of Timor Leste. She has taught undergraduates with experiential environmental education programs in northwestern Thailand and Bhutan. Yoder is committed to initiatives that build people’s fullness of life, combining thoughtful resource use and people’s abilities to provide for basic needs. In her early studies in biology and tropical agriculture, this took shape with a focus on biodiversity and sustainable food production in marginal growing conditions. Living and working with forest dwellers and subsistence farmers piqued her interest in the circumstances that constrain their livelihoods. This led her to examine the social and political aspects of environmental choices and ecological change. Her interests center on the policies and practices surrounding land and forest claims, ownership, and access.

Scott Sabin, Executive Director, Plant with Purpose

Scott Sabin is executive director of Plant With Purpose, an international, environmental nonprofit organization that transforms lives in rural areas where poverty is caused by deforestation. For over 25 years, Plant With Purpose has provided lasting solutions to rural poverty through a community development approach that integrates reforestation, sustainable agriculture programs, economic opportunity through microfinance, and local leadership development. Plant With Purpose currently works in more than 275 communities in six countries: Burundi, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Tanzania and Thailand.

Sabin is author of Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People, a practical guide for creation care in which he offers theological foundations for environmental stewardship, practical strategies for environmental sustainability, case studies of contemporary ministry groups, and sidebars by leading voices in the Christian church who are passionate about environmental stewardship.

Bill Deutsch, Director, Global Water Watch, Auburn University

Bill Deutsch is the founder of Global Water Watch (GWW), a community-based water quality monitoring program hosted by the Auburn University International Center for Aquaculture and Aquatic Environments. Deutsch has taken more than 60 trips to teach community-based water quality monitoring in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, Ecuador, Guatemala, Rwanda, China, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, India, Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia, South Africa, Peru, Egypt, and most recently, Kenya.  He has worked in conjunction with government and non-profit affiliates, including the USAID, USDA, USEPA, USGS, Heifer International, and others.  For his efforts, he was named Alabama Conservationist of the Year in 2011.  Deutsch teaches ‘Watershed Stewardship’ at Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies each summer, a course for which students receive both USEPA and GWW certification in water quality monitoring.

Ronald Oakerson, Professor of Political Science, Houghton College

Ron Oakerson teaches and conducts research on local and regional institutions related to governance and civic engagement in the U.S. and around the globe.  A former senior analyst with the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Oakerson is a recognized authority on issues of metropolitan governance.  His book on this subject, Governing Local Public Economies: Creating the Civic Metropolis, was published in 1999.  He is also known for his work in rural and environmental policy, especially the study of natural resources used as a “commons.” In this connection, he served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Panel on Common Property Resource Management. His work has frequently taken him to Africa, where he has served as a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development on issues of democracy and governance.  Presently, Oakerson is pursuing interests in the governance of protected areas, such as New York’s Adirondack Park, and the “urban commons”–the study of urban space and its uses. Pedagogically, he has focused on developing field-based courses that allow students to combine reading and discussion with field visits to relevant sites, including extended conversations with practitioners, and has integrated this approach in his “Urban Governance” and “Environmental Governance” courses.

David Warners, Professor of Biology, Calvin College

David Warners teaches in the areas of restoration ecology, plant taxonomy, conservation biology, and Christian environmental stewardship at Calvin College. For many years, he led the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP), a service-learning program that connects students and professors in the natural sciences with projects that apply classroom knowledge to environmental projects around Calvin College and the City of Grand Rapids. Most recently, he has involved students in stream and watershed restoration projects through his work with the Plaster Creek Stewards, a local watershed group that improves the health of a seriously degraded stream whose watershed includes much of Calvin’s campus. For his innovative and effective teaching, Warners received the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching at Calvin in 2009. Warners is actively involved in restoration ecology research, including cloud forest in Costa Rica, native Michigan forest, and prairie and wetland ecosystems. Previously, Warners worked in sustainable agriculture for Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) and organized a week-long conference on ‘Creation Care in Missions’ for CRWRC administrative and field staff in 2008.

Grace Ju Miller, Professor of Biology, Indiana-Wesleyan University

Grace Ju Miller teaches plant biology and tropical agriculture at Indiana Wesleyan University. She has directed international courses in biology for 14 years, including a two-year stint in Morocco (2006-2008), a college course for North American students called 'Sustainable Tropical Agriculture' since 2002, and tropical marine biology courses in Belize, Kenya, Venezuela and Malaysia. She is past Director of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) Seed Bank. She is currently a board member for ECHO and is past board member for the Haitian American Friendship Foundation (HAFF).

David Unander, Professor of Biology, Eastern University

David Unander teaches tropical ecology, medical botany, and genetics at Eastern University and 'Tropical Agriculture and Missions' at Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. He has led numerous courses throughout Latin America, introducing students to tropical agriculture and tropical ecology in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Peru, Belize, and Costa Rica. Prior to teaching at Eastern University, Unander was yield, quality, and disease resistance in squash, peppers, and tropical pumpkins. He also served as a research associate in ethnobotany at the Fox Chase Cancer Center (Philadelphia), evaluating antiviral effects of plant species. He has served on a number of missions and development boards. including Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), Plant with Purpose, and Hope Seeds.


Students, faculty, or practitioners interested in joining the conference can visit the FIDC conference registration page.