Yosemite National Park is one of 63 national parks and 423 park sites maintained by the National Park System. (Photo/Mick Haupt, Unsplash)


If we lose ‘America’s best idea,’ we lose our tie to the Earth, President Folt tells national parks class

EARTH WEEK: The president — an environmental scientist — shares her love of the national treasures that sparked her love of science and discovery during the runup to USC’s Earth Week observance.

April 20, 2022 Grayson Schmidt

Even during a week of major events like the dedication of the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs and the State of the University address, USC President Carol L. Folt made time to speak to a class of about 25 students on a Friday morning. That’s because the class, “An Exploration of America’s National Parks,” brought her back to what had originally sparked her passion for academia.

“I started just like every one of you, in a classroom,” Folt told the class. “I’ve actually served in every single role in universities. … In every single role, all of them started with my love of teaching, being with students, and my love of science and discovery.”

As a lead-up to Earth Week on campus, Folt spoke to the class about her background in biology and aquatic environments. Douglas Noble, an associate professor of architecture, created the course, which is available to students from all majors. Noble says he wanted students to approach their research projects from their own unique perspectives as part of a class for all who are passionate about preserving national parks.

“Having President Folt come to the national parks class and express her enormous enthusiasm for our national parks and open space was crucial,” Noble said. “The parks truly are ‘America’s best idea,’ and it is inspirational to see the president of the University of Southern California telling us about the connections between the parks and her research.”

You learn so much about a person when you hear them talk about something they are passionate about.

Ilana Spindel, master’s student

The class, which is being offered for the first time this spring, will culminate in each student’s research paper becoming a chapter in a book that will be published for the class at the end of the semester. Folt was one of some 30 guest speakers scheduled for the class this semester.

Ilana Spindel, a student in the Master of Architecture program, said that she appreciated making that classroom connection with Folt. “You learn so much about a person when you hear them talk about something they are passionate about,” Spindel said. “Of course, President Folt is passionate about teaching and USC, but hearing her lecture on her lifelong passion for the environment and science was invaluable and illuminating.”

Nearby national park inspired President Carol L. Folt’s love of nature

Though she admitted that her native Akron, Ohio, is not “a paradise of the environmental world,” she said that growing up on the edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park sparked her love of nature.

“I realize now that is probably the most important thing that connected me to what became such a passion for me,” she said.

Folt went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in aquatic biology and a master’s degree in biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a doctorate in ecology from the University of California, Davis. She spoke with the class about the importance of aquatic environments in national parks, how people can affect those ecosystems and what still needs to be done to preserve what we have.

“If we lose these parks, we lose one of the most important spiritual connections to our role as the stewards of the Earth and our connection to the Earth,” Folt said.

“Talking about the environment is where I get my energy and my joy, and so, truthfully, being a part of this class is really, really fun for me,” she said.