September 17, 2013 marked an important birthday: Dr. Eugene P. Odum’s would have been 100 years old. We’re taking the opportunity of Dr. Odum’s centenary year to celebrate, appreciate and reflect on the past and present while looking forward to enhancing the legacy of “Odumology.”
What is the Odumology? Betty Jean Craige’s fabulous biography, Eugene Odum: Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist, published in 2001 by the University of Georgia Press, reveals that with Dr. Odum, science and personality were entwined. Creativity and vision in developing the concept of the ecosystem were critical, but it was his holistic perspective, a unique personal perception of seeing, touching, smelling the interaction of systems, that motivated so much of Dr. Odum’s work. His ability to communicate in a compelling “down-to-earth” manner allowed scientists and the public alike to see the relevance and importance of ecology to our everyday lives.
He was also a pragmatist. In discussing the formulation and successes of the Institute of Ecology, the forerunner of the Odum School, Dr. Odum identified three requirements for a lasting program: grant dollars, collaborative faculty, and a home facility*. We’re still following that prescription.
In the past year, our fundraising has continued to increase by 38% compared to a five-year average and our external grants from faculty totaled more than $2.3 million—a real achievement at a time when most federal agencies are only funding at around 4%.
With support from the Offices of Provost and President, we’ve continued to hire extraordinary, collaborative faculty. You can read about Ford Ballantyne, who joined us in 2012, on page 21 of the 2013 issue of EcoVoice Magazine. Scott Connelly is a creative, rigorous field researcher specializing in amphibian ecology and conservation. Until recently he directed our programs in Costa Rica; he will return to main campus this fall to energize our instructional programs. Seth Wenger is a landscape ecologist specializing in freshwater systems. He is returning to OSE in January and, as co-director, will develop a new science agenda for the River Basin Center.
In 1973, Dr. Odum and others created a state-of-the-art ecology building. Today, our students and faculty are distributed amongst six buildings across campus. Our long term goal remains a new, completely sustainable structure to house the entire School, a building that will allow us to provide new solutions to ecological questions while illustrating how we can live in a more sustainable, ecologically rich way.
Dr. Odum left not only a scientific legacy, but a cultural one, where metaphors were more effective in communicating ecology than scientific jargon. In Odumology terms, ecosystems were “cooperative” or developing “from youth to maturity,” while excessive growth was “cancerous.”
I can’t imagine what images Dr. Odum would use to capture ecological issues of today: climate change, extinction, emerging diseases—all within the world of apps, Tweets, and texts. The challenge for us is to harness these opportunities for ecological issues and environmental concerns, much as Dr. Odum did with the simplicity of a metaphor. Our legacies give so much to celebrate.
* Foreword by Eugene P. Odum, (2001), in Holistic Science – the evolution of the Georgia Institute of Ecology (1940-2000), G.W. Barrett & T.L. Barrett, Editors. New York: Taylor & Francis.