- Kaye Savage, the incoming director of environmental studies at Wofford, is very excited about the possibility of teaching about a subject that is second nature to her in a learning environment that she loves.
“I was trained in a small liberal arts college, Pomona College (Calif.),” says Savage, who is currently at Vanderbilt University. “I was an art major there. I was interested in science but pursued other passions. I was routed into my current scientific perspective through the world of art…doing a photography internship at the Hawaiian volcano observatory. I took sort of a circuitous route.
“My interests in environmental issues have always been very strong. I’ve been an avid outdoors person since I was a kid. That sort of brought me into the type of research that I do, which is aimed at understanding contaminant transport and distribution in the environment, especially in streams, rivers and soils.”
Savage received her Ph.D. in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University in 2001. She has taught a variety of courses related to water resources, including hydrogeology, methods in environmental geology, and environmental mineralogy. Her research is focused on processes controlling the distribution, speciation and transport of trace elements at and near the earth’s surface. Her research background includes spectroscopic studies of trace elements in rocks and sediments, the environmental chemistry of sulfide and sulfate minerals, and arsenic geochemistry in mine environments and associated waters.
“Lately my research has been moving in more of a biological direction,” she says. “At Vanderbilt we’ve been studying the uptake or arsenic in Kentucky bluegrass and how earthworms move contaminants around in soil and what kind of record mussel shells provide of their exposure to contamination in stream systems over time. This is a beautiful setting to continue those types of projects.”
While she hails from the West, the South has piqued her interest in many areas.
“The South has a lot of surface water issues and drought issues currently that people are becoming more aware of,” she says. “There are also a lot of energy-related issues with coal mining and that sort of thing. There are certainly many aspects of this part of the country that are unique.”
Just as unique is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a program such as the one she will lead at Wofford.
“I’m really thrilled about getting to come here,” she says. “This is amazing to me to be able to come here at the beginning, especially with such a clear commitment from the college. To see them renovating the Glendale facility for this program just shows a great commitment and vision and truly I couldn’t be more excited than I am about that.”
She says the program will encompass a broad spectrum of disciplines.
“It has been envisioned as a real interdisciplinary environmental studies program, so that students will get perspectives from science, social science and humanities on the really complex problems that we are continuing to face,” Savage says. “We have a shrinking treasury of resources at our disposal and ever-increasing problems with water quality and air quality and global warming. None of these are problems that can be addressed from one particular point of view or set of data.
“This program is meant to really help people understand the interconnections as they develop a focus area in one of the three major areas – science, social science or humanities – so that they come back together and share a deepened perspective and breadth of knowledge. Hopefully these students will emerge ready to step into environmental stewardship and perhaps leadership roles in society.”