Jill Welter

Associate professor of biology and TRW instructor

Hometown: Ontario, Oregon

Becoming an ecosystem ecologist: After earning my bachelor's degree in biology and environmental studies, I moved to one of the most beautiful places in the world — Jackson Hole, Wyoming — where I became involved in conservation biology. I realized that even in this beautiful landscape, I saw the world through "elemental goggles." I recognize the key connections between biology and chemistry that shape the natural world, and are at the root of environmental justice.

For me, it is important to understand how humans alter the movement of elements across landscapes through urban development, agriculture and lifestyle choices, and how decisions made by one group can affect so many others who live downwind or downriver. Environmental issues are issues of social justice that require interdisciplinary solutions, bringing us together across boundaries of culture and class, as well as the arts, humanities and sciences.

Minnesota bound: I joined St. Kate's in 2005 after completing my postdoctoral research at the University of California‚ Berkeley. I was attracted to St. Kate's focus on liberal arts education. Effective problem solving requires the ability to think from many different perspectives and disciplines, and we really emphasize this across the curriculum. This is something employers really like about St. Kate's graduates. Today, I am even more committed to the liberal arts and exploring interdisciplinary intersections between biology and other disciplines.

Hands in biology and "The Reflective Woman": Being a biologist influences my TRW course in some ways, but more so, teaching TRW is helping me to teach biology in a broader and critical social context.

Summer fieldwork: I typically head west — driving the scenic routes in Montana, Utah and Washington — toward the Heath and Marjorie Angelo Coast Range Reserve in northern California. To spend 10 weeks in the redwoods changes you, and I get to do this in fieldwork with some of my students from St. Kate's. To see their growth in confidence and in critical thinking, and to see their joy in their work energizes my teaching. (Welter was one of five principal investigators on a five-year National Science Foundation grant that funded watershed and food web research at Angelo.)

Seven weeks in Iceland: This past summer, we were invited to participate in an international scientific collaboration in Iceland. The Hengill watershed (about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik) is the ideal natural setting for conducting our research on climate change. The opportunity to bring students along on this project was just amazing.

Read more about the Iceland trip in SCAN: Dream on Ice »

A professor's love: Teaching is all about the "aha" moment, whether that's in research, in TRW or in a biology class. My goal is to help students see that they can lead and influence.

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