Lincoln, Neb. —Last year on a student trip to Africa, John Carroll watched a 19-year-old student change a tire for the first time on a Toyota Land Cruiser miles from any town or city.
The pride the student felt after tackling a problem she hadn’t encountered before was palpable, Carroll said. He was proud too. Solving new problems, he believes, is a big part of the power of the hands-on, experiential learning opportunities offered by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources (SNR), which Carroll has led for the past decade.
“One of the parts of experiential learning that is so important is the confidence it gives students in their ability to do new things,” he said.
Opportunities for hands-on and experiential learning within the school have expanded under Carroll’s leadership, and today include partnerships with the San Diego Zoo, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Lincoln Public Schools, among others. Providing opportunities for students to learn new things, test what they’re learning in the classroom and build confidence is something Carroll counts as a highlight of his time leading the school, which will come to an end in July 2023. Carroll will stay on as member of the SNR faculty. A national search will be launched this spring for a new SNR director.
“John’s vision, enthusiasm and constant quest to try to new things have helped shape SNR into the collaborative, forward-thinking and welcoming place that it is today,” said Mike Boehm, NU Vice President and Harlan Vice Chancellor for UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I am grateful for his leadership and am excited for his next chapter of service to SNR.”
Carroll joined UNL as the School director in July 2013, after holding faculty positions at the University of Georgia, PennWest California, the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota Crookston. He also spent three years as a senior research scientist at what is now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in Fordingbridge, England.
At the time Carroll joined UNL, SNR faculty had moved into the current home in Hardin Hall only a few years prior. Before that that had been spread out in buildings across campus. Carroll sought to help build a sense of unity and shared vision among the fisheries and wildlife biologists, climatologists, ecologists, foresters, water scientists and faculty across other diverse disciplines. The school adopted the unofficial tagline “integration and identity,” which, Carroll said, put words to the SNR faculty’s willingness to embrace interdisciplinary research, as well as their desire to contribute to the advancement of their own specific research areas. Today, faculty are engaged in interdisciplinary research with scholars across campus including many in the humanities.
Watching both students and faculty succeed has been Carroll’s favorite part of the role, and that is one he will get to continue. He will teach undergraduate and graduate classes and continue to advise two Ph.D. students – both of whom are studying elephants. He will also continue to take students on the annual study-abroad trip to Africa.
“When I take the students to Africa, they come back a month later and they’ve matured 5 or 6 years,” he said. “All the stereotypes go out of their heads, and they learn a lot about themselves. Those lessons translate to a lot of other things in life.”