Message from the Interim Director

On June 15th, I will undertake one of the biggest transitions of my academic life—retirement.  My academic career goes back to Autumn 1965, when I applied to forestry schools at Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, the UW, and Yale.  Rejected by Oregon (my BA in Biology was my weakness), I then rejected Penn State (I grew up in Pennsylvania), and was left with a choice between Yale and the UW.  From the perspective of my parents and grandparents, there was no choice, but thanks to my then-girlfriend, I knew there was a choice.  I asked then-UW forestry Professor David Scott for his perspectives.  As a Yale PhD, he said many positive things about Yale; however, it was his enthusiasm for the outdoor learning environment at the UW that sold me—seawater, snow, ice, temperate rainforest, and inland desert, all within about a two-hour drive from Seattle.  The fact that my girlfriend also chose the UW for graduate school made my choice even easier!

As I look back, I realize what an incredibly wise choice I made.  In July 1971, I started my first academic position at the University of Missouri in Columbia— and what an easy transition from the UW it was.  Mentoring and instruction by an amazing set of faculty including Bob Cleland, Dale Cole, Bob Gara, Leo Fritschen, Bjorn Hrutfiord, Ben Jayne, Gordon Orians, Dave Scott, Reini Stettler, Fio Ugolini, and Dick Walker gave me an unparalleled foundation to begin a 40+ plus-year career as a faculty member. 

Graduate school not only provided this great foundation, but also gave me an appreciation for the outdoors as a critical part of education.  In my second quarter Silvics class at the UW, I learned the Duff and Nolan stem analysis technique—well almost.  Since then I have used that analysis in classroom and research settings in Austria, Finland, Missouri, and in at least eight different classes and two different research projects since returning in 1980 to the UW.  It gives students a hands-on learning experience, forces good sample as well as data management, and allows puzzle solvers the opportunity to excel as they explain the differences and overlaps between Type I, II, and III stem and branch increment sequences.  Field trips were the hallmark of UW classes in soils, pathology, entomology, and silviculture. 

Since that exposure, I have enthusiastically embraced field instruction.  Whether teaching and leading modules in the Silviculture Institute or co-instructing autecology with Linda Brubaker and Reini Stettler, I have embraced field experiences as an integral part of any student’s education. The image below is from a class field trip to a ridge high on Iron Peak where we discussed the ecological role of whitebark pine and the impact of white pine blister rust and the mountain pine beetle on this species.  Seeing almost every mature whitebark pine dead enabled us to discuss historical disturbance regimes, human impacts on forest systems, and our responsibility to steward these systems where doing nothing is not a responsible alternative. 

During my career, I have witnessed the College of Forestry transition to the College of Forest Resources, and I have been imbedded in the changes from a college to a school and from the School of Forest Resources to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.  All of these transitions have been unsettling to some stakeholders and constituents.  However, I feel that SEFS' stature and promise today are as positive as at any time in the past, even while the UW's current funding model and the economic climate in our city, state, nation, and world highlight individual and institutional fragility. Our faculty have increased their individual and collaborative sponsored research and have discovered emerging opportunities for collaboration across the UW. Even with double-digit tuition iincreases, undergraduate student numbers and total student credit hours generated by faculty instruction are at new highs. Our staff has been particularly hard hit by reduced state funding, but remain extraordinarily loyal and just work harder.  Our major avenues of public engagement—UW Botanic Gardens, Pack Forest, and Olympic Natural Resources Center—are changing strategically as they seek to become self-sustaining.

Because of my passion for using the incredible natural and human- altered laboratory that this region offers (encapsuled in a range of phrases—whitecaps to white tops, basin to bay, and window box to wildland), I, with my wife, Arline (former girlfriend, mentioned above!), and a group of friends and colleagues, have created a student support fund that reflects our commitment to experiential learning. From a pedagogical perspective, field trips and associated experiential learning are valuable tools in the educational toolbox.  But access to this toolbox is affected by three significant costs: the time-intensive nature of field instruction, both during design and implementation; high faculty to student ratios; and course fees, especially for courses involving overnight stays and long-distance driving.  As tuition rises and faculty instructional activity is increasingly monitored for efficiencies, field trips run the risk of being eliminated. 

The Thomas Hinckley Student Fund in Environmental and Forest Sciences, will be used to offset costs associated with student travel, fieldwork, fees, and other educational expenses that cannot be covered by scholarships and other tuition assistance. The fund has been created with a $40,000 matching pool; the first $40,000 in gifts will be matched 1:1. For more information, contact Caroline Rosevear at or (206) 221-0562.   To make a gift online, visit the UW Foundationwebsite. The importance of your support for our students cannot be overstated, and we are grateful for your engagement in our great school.

Best, and keep in touch!,

Tom Hinckley