Jessica Leahy – Teaching

2020 Peirce and Florence Pitts-Webber Outstanding Forestry Teacher Award

Speech given by Dean Teisl:

“Dr. Jessica Leahy is a professor of human dimensions of natural resources who is a thought leader on integrating social sciences into forestry curricula.

Her article in the Journal of Forestry, “Making Silviculture Matter: The Case for an Evolution in Forestry Education,” encouraged designing higher-education programs that develop “society ready” natural resource professionals.

Colleagues at other universities consistently reach out to Dr. Leahy for guidance on creating their own versions of two courses she developed – “Environment and Society” and “Environmental Communication Skills.” At UMaine, these serve as foundational courses for several undergraduate programs and consistently enroll more than 70 students a semester.

Dr. Leahy continually seeks to improve her already highly-rated courses. “Environment and Society” and “Environmental Communication Skills” are both taught in active learning classrooms where she incorporates many of these techniques to improve student learning outcomes.

She also partners with stakeholders to enhance her courses. Most recently, through a partnership with the Maine Forest Collaborative, Dr. Leahy’s students pursued a grand question about a forest-based rural community in Maine. Over the course of the semester, the students worked towards a final proposal to answer the grand question, “How can their selected rural community use forests to positively impact the community?” The Maine Forest Collaborative is now using the same grand question for a project with 60 high school students from rural communities across Maine.

Dr. Leahy incorporates both community service learning and field experiences into the course “Environmental Interpretation.” She collaborates with other faculty to merge rural sociology and resource economics in the course “Rural Communities,” and integrates engaged research throughout the course.

She also developed an experimental course – “Family Forests in New England” – in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Vermont. The course used a combination of online and in-person sessions at the New England Society of American Foresters meetings. She also developed one-time course offerings in “Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability” and “Ecological Forest Management.”

Dr. Leahy serves as the program coordinator for the Master of Forestry program, which has grown from three to 16 students under her leadership. She advises all the students enrolled in the program, which requires students to have a graduate committee and work with community partners on a significant Master of Forestry project. She also advises undergraduate students and has mentored students on their senior capstone and Honors College thesis projects. She has also engaged five undergraduate students in mentored research experiences since 2015. Dr. Leahy’s research graduate students have a strong record of obtaining acceptance to competitive programs for further study, or employment in their fields.

For her many contributions, I am pleased to congratulate Dr. Leahy for earning the 2020 G. Peirce and Florence Pitts-Webber Outstanding Forestry Teacher Award.”


SFR 220 – Environment and Society

Introduces the concepts and principles necessary to understand the connections between human behavior and environmental conditions.  The course includes a review of the conservation and environmental movements in the United States, tracing changing American values towards forests and other natural resources over time.  Students learn how to critically analyze the social, economic, and environmental aspects of various case studies concerning society-environment connections by evaluating diverse information sources.
General Education Requirements: Satisfies the General Education Western Cultural Tradition and Population and the Environment Requirements.
Course Typically Offered: Spring
Credits: 3

SFR 222 – Environmental Communication Skills

The nature and problems of environmental communication, with opportunities to practice communication through a range of exercises.
General Education Requirements: Satisfies the General Education Social Contexts and Institutions Requirement.
Course Typically Offered: Fall
Credits: 3

SFR 452 – Environmental Interpretation

A mid-level course in the principles and techniques of environmental interpretation, with special reference to parkland settings. Interpretive planning, interpretation of complex subjects and controversy, ethics, special populations and research are discussed. Students are required to demonstrate their understanding and application of interpretive principles using examples from their field.  Course may include field work during and outside of the course’s scheduled times.
Prerequisites: PRT 352. Junior or senior standing or permission of instructor.
Course Typically Offered: Fall
Credits: 4

SFR 504 – Rural Communities: Theory and Practice

Analysis of rural communities and development practices using economic and sociological frameworks. Rural communities in Maine are examined. Field trips required. Lec 4.
Prerequisites & Notes: Graduate standing of instructor permission.
Credits: 4