Caring for the World

Professor Aims to Instill Awareness of Nature's Fragile Balance

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
–Genesis 2:15


A beautiful, prosperous culture disappeared hundreds of years ago, leaving behind only fascinating monuments and dozens of questions.

It’s a scenario that Jon Cole, professor of engineering, has seen repeated throughout the world. He has devoted his career to preventing it from happening again, and naturally, it was the topic of his presentation at the annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture for the 2006-07 school year.

Cole’s lecture, “Portraits of Community: Interconnecting Civilizations and Resources,” focused on communities on Easter Island and in the Anasazi and Mayan cultures. These communities provide examples of how abusing Earth’s resources has a detrimental effect on the environment and future generations. Cole also turned to modern problems bearing a remarkable resemblance to issues reflected by those ancient cultures. “Dependence upon limited resources and interdependence of neighboring regions provides us with lessons to anticipate our own future,” Cole warns.

Cole’s tenure at WWU stretches 43 years. He has been a highly regarded professor and adviser at the university since 1964, and until recently, was heavily involved in recruitment efforts for the Edward F. Cross School of Engineering.

Early in his teaching career, Cole took a three-year sabbatical to earn a doctoral degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin. In 1976 he was a lecturer at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey as part of the Fulbright Scholar Program. Cole has also worked for many years with the Madaba Plains Project, a multi-disciplinary archaeological affiliation centered in Jordan. During his time in the Middle East, Cole started to understand the long-term effect mankind that has had on the world.

“I began to get some glimmer of understanding,” he says of those experiences. “But to this environmental engineer, educated in the highly technological society of North America, central Jordan presented a challenge to observe, absorb, and analyze.”

Today Cole divides his time between instructing future engineers and furthering his respect for creation through the Natural Resources Conservation and Management program, which he helped develop more than 10 years ago. The inter-disciplinary program involves faculty from the sciences, engineering, and humanities, providing students with a holistic view of the problems facing our environment today. Spend just a few moments with the energetic professor and he’ll begin to display his deep love for the world’s natural resources and the effect of those resources on our culture and population.

In his lecture, Cole quoted physician and theologian Jack Provonsha declaring that “Cleaning up the earth’s rivers, lakes, and skies will involve enormous expenditures of effort and money, and there are no quick fixes … The tragedy is, we know what to do to clean things up, to restore our damaged ecosystems, and to prevent further despoiling. What is missing, at every level of society, is the collective will to do it.” 

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Last update on April 16, 2008