EIC Director's Departure

June 30, 2020

Dr. Susko returns to the classroom full-time

Dr Susko gives children instructions during the installation of a garden at Miller Elementary School
Dr Susko gives children instructions during the installation of a garden at Miller Elementary School
Dr Susko (standing far left) gives children instructions during the installation of a garden for the Dearborn SHINES Project at Miller Elementary School.

After nearly 11 years at the helm of the EIC, Dr. David Susko is stepping down as Director to return full-time to the faculty in the Department of Natural Sciences. Dr. Claudia Walters will take over as EIC Director in July 2020. We asked Dr. Susko to reflect on his time at the Center.

What first interested you in becoming the Director of the Environmental Interpretive Center?

At first, I didn't apply for the position. I had just been granted tenure as a professor, and I had a successful, productive research program going. My future in academia seemed pretty well set for the next 10-20 years, but I kept thinking about some advice my Dad had given me. He said that part of the human experience is about challenging yourself, and trying new things. I was already quite comfortable in my career, but maybe too much so. The more I thought about joining the EIC as Director, the more I warmed to the idea. I'd have an opportunity to manage budgets, supervise staff, and develop a strategic plan for a revised mission, all of which were things I had only limited experience and expertise. I also thought that maybe I could impact a broader audience than just my professional colleagues and our own college students. As Director, I would have the opportunity to engage diverse partners and stakeholders, including NGOs, K-12 school children, foundations, and corporate partners.  

How has this part of your career affected your life?

Being the Director of the EIC is a 24 hours a day responsibility. I always seemed to have a figurative (and literal) ever-expanding in-box of to-do items. Yet, I was surrounded by passionate, committed colleagues and students, whose infectious energy and enthusiasm motivated me to keep diligently working, ultimately towards furthering the mission of the Center. I wound up having great friendships and working relationships with faculty and staff, and especially my colleagues at the Center, Julie Craves, Dorothy McLeer, Rick Simek, John Berger, and Mike Perrin. Of course, I will also cherish all of my interactions with student staff and visitors to the Center. I've maintained contact with many of them over the years, and I take pride in their professional and personal accomplishments. Lastly, I must thank my wife, Monique, and my kids, Justin and Lauren, for being so patient and understanding when work kept me busy on holidays, weekends, etc. They recognized how important the success of the EIC was to me and the university; they were a critical source of support and  encouragement.

What are some memorable experiences from your eleven years as Director? 

There were so many, it is difficult to pick just a few. I seemed to have some quite memorable experiences in our 300-acre Environmental Study Area. From having to rescue pet chickens and cats that people had released there, to searching for (and finding!) lost children in the woods, our natural areas on campus seemed to be a source of eternal surprise. The coordination of deer culls on our campus was another interesting experience. That was when I got my first and only hate mail, calling for me to have my salary reduced as a result of my role in that effort. I keep the letter by my desk to remind me to stay humble. The most indelible moment for me, though, was a quiet, private one. One day, a former student program staff member at the EIC, Natalie Ray (now Natlie Cypher), showed up unannounced at my office door with a little 6- or 7-year-old African American girl. Natalie proceeded to inform me that the girl wanted to personally thank me for allowing her school class to visit the Center on a field trip.  I thanked her and asked her whether she had ever visited the natural areas on our campus before. She replied no, adding that she had never even been to a park before. I was stunned. I've replayed that 30 second conversation in my mind many times over the years. Whenever I got down or depressed at work, I would think about that young girl, and remind myself that our efforts were important and impactful to people, especially children. The University and the Dearborn community are so lucky to have a facility like the EIC that promotes environmental education, research, and outreach. I wish their experiences will prove to be as memorable and valuable as my own. 

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