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Moving Forward

January 4, 2018
Melinda Harm Benson

Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources’ new dean looks forward to additional degree offerings and increased capacity to serve the state.

By Micaela Myers

Wyoming is a unique place—a place where people of all perspectives appreciate the state’s open spaces and natural resources. The University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and Ruckelshaus Institute were designed to meet the needs of both students and the state, and the Haub School’s new dean brings a diverse background to help lead it to the next level.

Melinda Harm Benson returned to Laramie in August as a Wyoming Excellence Chair and the new dean of the Haub School. Benson was a faculty member in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and holds a master’s degree from UW and a law degree from the University of Idaho.

“I have a background working with nongovernmental organizations, working in state and federal government, and then also working within higher education,” she says. “The Haub School is really ready to go to the next level in terms of its impact in research and scholarship, the services it can provide to the state and the programs it can offer the students. My task is to shepherd that move to the next level in those three areas.”

One of the things Benson is most excited about is the new natural resource recreation and tourism degree option, which will be considered by the UW Board of Trustees later this academic year. A partnership with the College of Business, the degree will offer four areas of specialization: environmental stewardship, sustainability and natural resource use; human dimensions of recreation and tourism; business management; and outdoor recreation.

“This is a degree that responds directly to a call by the governor and his task force for economic diversification and the importance of tourism to the state’s economy,” Benson says. “It’s also a direct response to President Nichols’ identification of the need for these types of courses and degrees at the university.

“It will be place based, and there will be a lot of real-world experience, internships and interactions with actual providers of various types of related recreation and tourism activities,” she continues. “It’s really resonated with people across the state. We all share the desire to have a more diverse set of businesses in Wyoming. I also think we all want to make sure that the development of the recreation and tourism part of the economy is done in ways that work for people who live in Wyoming. Adding a degree helps us bring more attention to how we want to grow thoughtfully.”

Benson is also looking forward to reviewing graduate offerings at the Haub School and increasing the capacity of the Ruckelshaus Institute, which serves as a resource for the state and supports stakeholder-driven solutions to environmental challenges.

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