The Conservation Governance Lab would like to welcome its newest MS student, Thomas Moorman. Thomas is funded through an elite source, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program. Thomas is a Mississippi native, and Ole Miss graduate, joining us with an extremely impressive record of public service. While at Ole Miss, Thomas sang in the choir, and wrote an honors thesis titled: Dam Politics: Bolivian Indigeneity, Rhetoric, and Envirosocial Movements in a Developing State.
After graduation, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, where he worked as an Environmental Educator for Patterson Park Audubon Center. Conservation Corps in states are part of the American cultural legacy of conservation-oriented service, with roots all the way back to the New Deal-era federal work relief program from which its name is drawn. You will find our country’s best and brightest in these programs, with a strong commitment to national public service. Thomas is always available to advise current Auburn Forestry students on careers in the conservation corps.
During his year with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC), Thomas and other staff used Patterson Park in southeast Baltimore as an outdoor classroom, showing students and the public that the park they know and love is also an important stopover habitat for at least 219 species of birds. He practiced scientific communication with all ages in both formal and informal educational settings. Through the CCC, he attended environmental leadership trainings, attended several conferences, and wrote a grant to fund his year’s capstone project: a piloted, teacher reviewed environmental education curriculum for 4th and 5th grades for Patterson Park Audubon Center.
After this service year in the conservation corps was complete, he was selected to serve in the prestigious U.S. foreign aid, public service, and diplomacy-focused volunteer program known around the world as the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was established by John F. Kennedy in 1961 to ask young people in a free and open society to dedicate some of their formative years to service in developing countries.
Thomas worked on Zambia’s Linking Income Food and Environment program. This required an intensive study of Nyanja and technical agroforestry training. This enabled him to work with communities in the Mlolo chiefdom to achieve stated community goals in food security, water management, and income generation. According to Thomas, his primary project was piloting his community’s first year in the Community Based Reforestation Initiative, a collaborative, USAID funded initiative between the United States Forestry Service, the Zambia Forestry Department, and Peace Corps Zambia. Specifically, this meant that he worked in a capacity building manner to advise and assist interested individuals in his communities with the creation of tree nurseries, fish farming, beekeeping, animal husbandry, conservation farming, and biointensive gardening.
When we asked about his work in Zambia and how it pertains to the lab, he said, “My work in Zambia truly illustrated for me the absolute importance of human dimensions in any and all conservation considerations. While many of the indicators that I would need to discuss in reports dealt in land use numbers, tree survivability, and other seemingly non-human entities, none of my work would have been remotely possible without the energy and local knowledge of my communities and counterparts.”
Education post-Peace Corps was always the plan for Thomas, though Covid-19 hastened his return to the classroom. “I’ve always known I wanted to work towards the conservation of this beautiful world,” he said, “and I’d always known I wanted to go back to school. I just wasn’t entirely sure what area of conservation to work for. Then, work in Zambia with the Peace Corps really made me focus down on questions like, ‘How do I make this long-term tree nursery plan effective and long-lasting?’ and ‘How can we convince our communities to adopt agroforestry techniques in their fields and gardens when the payoff is not immediately visible and often takes several years?’ I realized that challenging questions in the broad spectrum of human-nature interactions were not only really interesting and exciting to me, but also critical considerations in our rapidly changing and developing world.” These questions and his service experience brought graduate school into focus as a logical next step, and his experience in and skills honed from the Peace Corps will guide his time here at Auburn.
“There’s no question that the ‘real world’ experience given to me by my service years have shaped me into not just a better scholar, but also a better human being,” he said. “I can ask more informed questions, and I can much more readily see the complexities of environmental challenges. Further, I can much more readily empathize with the human dimensions of these challenges. These qualities are going to be so important in my future as a researcher and nature conservation worker.”
Having navigated the sudden Peace Corps Covid-19 evacuation, the subsequent cultural re-entry into the United States, and then successfully entering into a graduate program at the lab, Thomas feels confident he can help others navigate the space between their service years and their continued education. He is happy to talk with any prospective students about service opportunities, graduate school thoughts, and anything related!
Thomas begins a research project on the way that Red Snapper management has changed in the Gulf of Mexico. His research will aim to understand how the economics, high level of cultural importance, and keen interest from decision-makers comes together to explain current management in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Dunning is grateful to the National Academies of Science Early Career Fellowship for an opportunity to attract such an impressive student, and to work on such an interesting and complex topic.
In his free time, you can find him birding at local eBird hotspots, biking very fast, and singing folk and choir songs at most any hour. Thomas is the songbird of the lab.