Rachel Carson’s Legacy in West Virginia

Mackenzie Kirschbaum, M.S., the Rachel Carson Council’s Associate Director of Campus and Civic Engagement, was a featured speaker at West Virginia University (WVU) and hosted by Dr. Maria Perez, Associate Professor of Geography in WVU’s Department of Geology and Geography, and Dr. Jason Hubbart, Associate Dean of Research in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design (DCANRD) and Associate Director of the West Virginia Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

Spread out across scenic Morgantown, West Virginia University, a land grant university founded in 1867, hosts numerous schools and programs related to the environment including energy and economics, engineering, soil and water, and more. The campus has earned a sustainability Silver Star from the American Association of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and has been named as bicycle friendly and as a Tree Campus.

WVU’s historic Woodburn Hall

While at WVU, Kirschbaum explored the sustainability features of the sprawling campus and visited students in an array of courses including Conservation Ecology, Environmental and Resource Economics, Research for Sustainable Development, and a GIS course. In each class, Mackenzie gave a brief overview of the Rachel Carson Council, its mission, and implementation of the RCC mission through the National Environment Leadership Fellowship.

At the beginning of each class session, Mackenzie starts her presentation the same. She states, “Please raise your hand if you know who Rachel Carson is.” These days the number of students who raise their hands feels as if it is getting fewer and fewer. But, Kirschbaum then follows with “Raise your hand if you know of the book Silent Spring.” Now far more students raise their hands. Rachel Carson’s legacy is not merely about remembering Rachel Carson. It is, Kirschbaum tells students, more about channeling Carson’s vision and values in our work today through advocacy, education and communication.

After visiting almost 200 students, Kirschbaum gave her talk, “Keeping Rachel Carson’s Legacy Alive,” stressing that Carson’s lessons are still valuable for scientists, students and the public. She urged her audience to emulate Carson – advocating and speaking out regardless of powerful opposition, communicating complex scientific ideas in moving prose, and telling and teaching others about the connections between nature and their own lives. Silent Spring is, essentially, about refusing to remain silent. Above all, Kirschbaum concluded, students, like Carson, must stand up and fight for what they believe in.

After Kirschbaum’s visit, West Virginia University became the 68th college or university to join the Rachel Carson Council Campus Network.