Interview with Jason Kauffman

Major

Environmental Studies

Current Position

Urban Conservationalist

GC Graduation Year

2004


Why or how did you choose your field? Were there specific experiences that influenced you?

Growing up I was always fascinated by the outdoors, wildlife, and natural phenomenon like thunderstorms and I always wanted to know more about how it all fit together. I was always fascinated by nature, but for a long time I wanted to be a teacher like my parents. At some point I realized that profession was not for me, instead I wanted to study biology. Over time, I decided that I was most interested in macrobiology, specifically wildlife.

During my sophomore year of college I was invited to join Mary Linton’s population study of salamanders at Merry Lea Environmental Center. During our conversations about joining this study it became clear to me that it would be great to have Mary as my academic advisor and to switch my major to environmental science. This switch made sense to me since the study of environmental science is of natural processes and how all the parts fit together to form a whole. I chose to concentrate my studies on Conservation Biology since my desire was and still is to conserve the natural world for the present and future generations.

Many experiences have brought me to where I am today. Some of the most important happened during my childhood at the farms of my maternal grandparents and uncles and aunts. There I learned about the connection humans have to the earth by looking for arrowheads and pieces of pottery, watching a calf be born in the early morning hours, just playing in the woods and creek, and much more. I was also influenced by the time I spent at Camp Amigo (known as Amigo Centre now) in the summers. While there my religious beliefs were strengthened and I learned that through nature I can find God.

Another place that impacted my path in becoming an Environmental Scientist was Merry Lea Environmental Center. There I learned about salamanders, bird banding and identification, nature photography, geology, human impact upon nature and the restorative ability humans have to restore natural ecosystems, invasive species and their impacts upon native ecosystems, and I continue to learn from the people who work there.

These, and many other experiences, broadened my appreciation for God’s Creation, the unbreakable connection humans have to it, and the impact, both good and bad, humans have on it.

What’s exciting about your job or field?

Through my job at the Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) I have become involved with the Elkhart River Restoration Association (ERRA), which is a group of people committed to protecting and improving the Elkhart River Watershed. This is very exciting for me since by protecting and restoring the watershed we live in it helps protect the plants and animals that rely upon the river for food and shelter.

Part of my job deals with Low Impact Development (LID) stormwater practices and providing education and assistance to those who are interested in installing LID practices at their homes or businesses. Some examples of LID stormwater practices are rain garden, bioretention basins, green roofs, and permeable pavement.

One exciting aspect in the field of Environmental Science is that with the recent surge in all things Green I am there at the forefront of preserving and conserving the natural world for the present and future generations.

Another exciting aspect is scientists are finally discovering and connecting how all portions of an ecosystem are connected to itself and to the whole world. Scientists are doing this in even more detail than before and this is very exciting because I have the opportunity to be involved with these discoveries.

How did your liberal arts education assist you in your journey?

My liberal arts education has provided me with a background in more than just one field of study, which provides me with a broad viewpoint instead of a narrow one. While attending Goshen College I majored in Environmental Sciences but I also took a number of classes in both Bible & Religion as well as History. The classes I took in both of these fields of study have reinforced my beliefs in a God that created the world for us but also commanded us to be stewards of all that He created. These classes also provided me with an understanding that if we ignore what History teaches us that we are bound to make the same mistakes again and this can be a big problem in Environmental Science.

What advice would you give to a young person just starting out?

  • Always know what you believe and never let anyone influence your beliefs otherwise just because your beliefs are different.
  • Something I learned while I was on Study Service Term and what I try to live by everyday: You have two choices in life. You can either stare at the ground in front of you, looking neither left nor right only seeing that which is directly in front of you. Or you can take your eyes off the ground, trust God to guide your feet, and look around. Only then will you discover the richness of the land and culture you are traveling through.
  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” – Philippians 4:13