Robbie Juel

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Biology with a Track in Botany

Student Hometown

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Biography: 

I am a medically retired, Army 7th Special Forces Group veteran pursuing a degree in Biology with a track in Botany. I became interested in science at an early age, living in the hills of southwest Missouri. I joined the Army after graduating high school and volunteered for the Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion, where I spent many hours in the woods honing the needed skills. I later volunteered for the Army Special Forces and attended the second ever class of the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Upon graduation of SFAS, I was assigned to Okinawa, Japan, with 1st Special Forces Group and was later assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During my time in the Army, I managed to travel to most parts of the globe. The two areas that stick out in my mind for their beauty was Malaysia, because of its untouched jungles, and Guatemala, because of the simple way of life and the friendly locals. The mountains of Guatemala will always have a special place in my heart. When I left the military, I worked on and built motorcycles for a few years until I started to further my education, which brings me to the present day.  

Why did you choose to attend UNCP? 

When I started researching universities to attend, I was looking for three specific things. It had to be within driving distance of Fayetteville, it had to have a botany program, and it had to have smaller class sizes. These were important to me as I am established in Fayetteville, and I had attended other university classes in which I had never uttered a word to the professor. I felt I needed to be able to reach out to my professors and to ask questions and seek guidance.  The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has not disappointed me. The level of instruction, research opportunities, and attentiveness of the facility and staff is of the highest caliber. 

What do you like best about UNCP? 

I have always liked to be challenged and have found that most challenges can be accomplished with the right approach and mentorship. There is no way that I could finish my degree in Biology without the guidance and support offered to me at UNCP. My lecture and lab questions were always explained in a manner I could understand with as much time as needed. Never rushed. Chemistry I, II and Organic Chemistry were extremely hard for me to grasp. The Chemistry Department professors worked with me and set up tutors as needed. This comes back to my original statement of “most challenges can be accomplished with the right approach and mentorship.” This was afforded to me at UNCP on many levels; that is what I like the most!

What are your post-graduation plans?

My graduation plans are to attend a graduate school where I can continue my studies in plant sciences. My research contributions to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have concentrated on plant communities of Sampson’s Landing, Robeson County, North Carolina. I have presented research posters at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists, North Carolina Academy of Science, State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, and numerous Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity symposia. My awards include the Robert Britt Memorial Scholarship presented by the Department of Biology, Summer USA Grant through Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity Center, and a Student Scholarship Support grant for materials and supplies used for Sampson’s Landing research. 

Robbie Juel in the Green Swamp Preserve Robbie Juel  
Robbie Juel in the Green Swamp Preserve (left photo) and at the annual meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists

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Faculty Spotlight

Faculty

Faculty Title

Professor

Faculty Department

Political Science and Public Administration

Dr. Robert O. Schneider is a professor of public administration at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He’s a recognized expert in emergency management and climate policy, and has authored two published books: Emergency Management and Sustainability: Defining a Profession and Managing the Climate Crisis: Assessing Our Risks, Options, and Prospects. In this interview, I discussed with him his upcoming third book: When Science and Politics Collide: The Public Interest at Risk, which comes out in March 2018.

The book represents more than 5 years of work, and builds heavily on Dr. Schneider’s previous research and publications. In setting out, he initially sought to answer one main question: why is there a disconnect between science and policy? In his words, he wanted to know “why is there a reluctance on the part of some people to accept what the science is telling us?” in relation to climate change. He says that while “our perceptions of science… have become very political” recently, the relationship has never been ideal, and climate change is hardly the first point of conflict between science and politics – it’s just the most obvious one today.

Ideally, Dr. Schneider says, science would guide policy decisions. Politicians would look at existing research and the conclusions reached, and then use the evidence to inform future laws and resolutions. In reality, however, policy decisions are made long before the decision-makers ever take so much as a glance at the scientific research. Once the decisions are made, existing research is then applied (or ignored) selectively to support whatever conclusion the politicians want. Dr. Schneider argues that this is because “politicians are most interested in winning the argument they need to win today,” the “minutiae of the moment,” rather than the answers to the “profound questions” that scientists are concerned with.

When evaluating how science and politics interact, Dr. Schneider emphasized that there are four different dynamics (cooperation, conflict, resistance, and crisis) at play. The dysfunctionality of the relationship between science and politics is observable in each of the four.

Cooperation is present only when those in power need something from scientists. The example highlighted by Dr. Schneider is the case of the Cold War and national security in the United States. The “space race” was an example of collaboration between politicians and scientists, and an example of the scientific advancement and achievement which can take place when interests are aligned. Of course, those situations rarely last for very long, and once the politicians had achieved their goals, interest in – and consequently, funding for – the space program was severely reduced. In the end, even when cooperation is present, it’s obvious that scientists and politicians have very different end goals.

The second (and most common) form of interaction between science and politics is conflict. This occurs when what the science indicates isn’t what politicians want to hear; this conflict is ultimately “driven by [the] material interests” of the politicians and their supporters, Dr. Schneider says. A good example from history is the “controversy” surrounding the dangers of smoking. Long after scientists knew with certainty that smoking was a serious health hazard, politicians – who were heavily supported by the tobacco industry – still argued that the science was “flawed” or “unsettled”, or that scientists were lying to the public. As we know, politicians eventually acknowledged the science. It took much debate and considerable time, but eventually everyone came to understand the hazards of smoking. We can see almost an exact parallel with how climate change is presented today: even though there is near-unanimous agreement among scientists that climate change is real and human-caused, politicians – who are today heavily supported by coal and petroleum industries, among other heavy polluters – argue that the science is not settled, or use disingenuous and fallacious arguments to “disprove” climate change, such as bringing a snowball onto the senate floor. Dr. Schneider argues that time is of the essence in this case, and the continued denial of the science may push us past the point of crisis with regards to the climate.

The third form of interaction is more to do with public opinion than with political interests: resistance. Dr. Schneider says that this is present when the science contradicts people’s personal beliefs. As opposed to the conflict model, which is a result of competing interests, resistance is more of an emotional reaction to science; it occurs when the consensus disagrees with a person’s fundamental personal beliefs. The clearest examples of this are when evidence conflicts with religious beliefs – for instance, in the case of anti-evolutionists or young-Earth creationists – but it can extend to philosophical objections and anecdotes from unauthoritative sources as well; for example, the relatively recent opposition to vaccines despite the complete lack of scientific evidence that they’re anything but beneficial.

The final form of interaction comes when a crisis occurs. At this point, the power structure is temporarily turned on its head: politicians become dependent on scientists and plead for their assistance and expert opinions in resolving an adverse event. Even this can be seen as highly dysfunctional; politicians are more than willing to ignore repeated warnings from scientists about potential disasters, but once one actually occurs, public opinion and sympathies shift enough to where those in power have to be seen trying to manage the situation. This could be seen as a short-term example of the “cooperation” dynamic, but it is a reactive dynamic when it really needs to be an anticipatory one. The horse is out of the barn before the cooperation begins.

Dr. Schneider’s conclusion is that these situations are all unacceptable, and a more consistent, cooperative dialogue needs to be established between scientists and politicians to ensure true progress. His book highlights both steps that may be taken to resolve the communication problems as well as the dire consequences we may face if science continues to be politicized. We’re on the clock, and time is quickly running out. “A day later,” he concludes, “may be a day too late.”

-By Jacob Newton

Faculty Spotlight

Faculty

Faculty Title

Professor

Faculty Department

Political Science and Public Administration

Dr. Daniel G. Barbee has worked in emergency management and disaster planning for over 3 decades. His work and accomplishments in the field include authoring procedures for FEMA as well as working with state and municipal governments around the country to implement plans that will prevent tragedy in the wake of a natural disaster.

Maria recently struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane. Two weeks later, more than half of the 3.4 million residents still have no access to fresh water and more than 90% have no electricity. Governor Rosselló has stated that it will likely be months before the island is fully operational again, and rebuilding & recovery estimates are in the tens of billions.

I discussed with Dr. Barbee some of the factors contributing to the severity of this disaster – why recovery efforts are expected to take so long, why the official death toll underestimates the impact of the storm, what challenges Puerto Rico will face in trying to prevent future disasters of this scale, and more. What follows is a summary of our conversation.

The first point of discussion was why the island territory was so badly affected and why relief was taking so long to arrive. Dr. Barbee touched on a few main points. “First of all, the infrastructure was and is badly outdated in many areas,” he said. Puerto Rico has been in mounting levels of debt for “decades”, and infrastructure spending often gets pushed off. That’s one reason why structural damage was so significant even though the immediate loss of life was comparatively low. Additionally, the professor noted, Puerto Rico has a high coastline-to-landmass ratio. “Maria was much worse than [Harvey and Irma were for the mainland] in part because… there was a lot of building along the coast.” Many of the island’s residents lived within the area affected by the storm surge, which led to widespread flooding and structural collapse.

As for why relief is taking so long, Dr. Barbee noted that he didn’t think it was “political” or from a lack of empathy. “FEMA is still cleaning up after the last two disasters,” and volunteers are “tired and spread thin.” Another topic discussed was the Jones Act, a nearly-100-year-old piece of legislation that prevents shipment between U.S. ports by foreign vessels. It took more than two days of deliberation after Hurricane Maria had subsided for the act to be temporarily waived to allow for shipments of oil and other crucial supplies to the territory. Aside from that, Puerto Rico is “obviously an island… that can only be accessed by boat or by air, and the airports really aren’t in good shape right now. So it’s harder to get supplies [than it would be on the mainland].” In addition, prior to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many residents were evacuated and disaster relief was already waiting immediately outside the projected path of the storm; these types of measures weren’t able to be taken prior to Maria.

Another item discussed was the comparatively low death toll for Maria when viewed in the context of other disasters. Dr. Barbee cautions that these numbers are likely to climb in the coming weeks as more deaths are reported and lack of power, water, and medicine takes its toll. “The first priority after a disaster should be getting everyone out [of unsafe situations] and getting them what they need,” but the collapse of all communication systems across the island has made it difficult for rescue workers to identify the communities most heavily impacted and the residents most in need of help. The professor noted that it’ll be a long time before everything gets back to normal, but once the immediate danger has passed, Puerto Rico needs serious help “to rebuild infrastructure in a way that will prevent a disaster on this scale again.”

Regardless of what ends up being the priority, it’s undeniable that – like Texas and Florida – Puerto Rico will need help getting back on its feet. If you’d like to help, consider donating to a disaster-relief charity such as “Save the Children.”

-by Jacob Newton

Amy Kish

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Environmental Science

Student Minor

Certification in GIS

Student Hometown

Akron, Ohio

Biography:

I graduated from high school in 1991.  During my senior year, when everyone was figuring out what they wanted to pursue in college, I was advised of something I’ll never forget. I wanted to do something with science, mainly biology.  However, I was told I should focus on something in the liberal arts, because I just didn’t have the mind for higher level science and/or math. I took that to heart for years. Huge mistake! 

I started college in the early 90’s at The University of Akron, a school of approximately 80,000 students. I also attended Kent State University (during the 90’s), which is another large university. I was originally a Special Education major. I never completed the programs because of several factors. First, the program just didn’t seem to fit what I wanted to do. Second, I was blessed to become a mom. I decided to set my education aside to do the greatest job I could think of, raise my son Spencer. 

I started back to school, many years later, at a small technical school in South Carolina to pursue a nursing degree. I took one microbiology course, and I was hooked. I knew my passion for science had never left. I moved to North Carolina, and after getting settled, I started to look for a school that would allow me to pursue my passion and to finally get a degree in science; that led me to UNC Pembroke. 

Why did you choose to attend UNCP? 

The main reason I chose UNCP is the small student-teacher ratio. Having attended very large universities in the past, small class sizes were important to me. I also needed to be able to commute to a campus.

What do you like best about UNCP? 

The thing I like best about UNCP is the accessibility of the faculty to the students. I don’t feel like a number here. I know all my professors and feel comfortable talking to any of them about school or home. I like that I can even approach professors I haven’t even had for classes to talk about their experiences in graduate schools or just bounce ideas off them for possible future plans. The faculty has never treated me differently, being a nontraditional student. 

What are your post-graduation plans? 

I am graduating from UNCP in December 2018. (Remember that advisor I mentioned who told me I didn’t have the mind for science? I’ll be graduating with honors, hopefully Magna Cum Laude!) As of now, I have not solidified my post-graduation plans, but I am leaning towards the PhD program in Marine Biology at UNC Chapel Hill. I will be applying to several other programs as well. I hope whatever my future holds, I will be able to work in the estuary system somewhere along the east coast. I am interested in the interaction of salt and fresh water and the organisms living there. The first thing I have planned immediately after graduation, however, is to prepare for my son to graduate from high school in June 2019. 

Please comment on your research experiences: 

I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to become a RISE Fellow at UNCP this past summer and into the 2017-2018 academic year. I have been working with Dr. John Roe on eastern box turtle research and the relationship prescribed fire plays in the species’ ecology. I presented a research poster at the end-of-summer RISE poster session, and I will be presenting at several conferences in the spring of 2018, including the ASB (Association of Southeastern Biologists) in Myrtle Beach in March, the AAG (American Association of Geographers) National Conference in New Orleans in April, and in multiple other state conferences.

Amy Kish and Hannah Swartz Amy Kish and Kayla Amy Kish Middle photo: Amy Kish in the microbiology lab

 

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