By Kimberly Y. Choi
My discomfort at a Watershed Forum session about GIS applications was at once resolved when a professional sitting behind me said to the instructor, “Not all of us are scientists,” for indeed I wasn’t a scientist.
Throughout my later schooling I feared I was finally in the grasp of specialization, that I was closing off opportunities to involve myself formally in any disciplines other than my own. And now at the GIS session, which I attended out of curiosity, it felt inappropriate somehow to sit in an audience among scientists who might use the data we were discussing to position a real construction project in its proper location. It was relieving to find out there were others who were not scientists by training. My worries were dispelled that it should be indulgent of me to choose a workshop not directly related to my work. Instead it was permissible here, even encouraged, for me to expand my Chesapeake knowledge across fields, and treat it as a legitimate part of my work. After some years of introducing myself to others with my degree program, being told the disciplines are disparate modes of thought, and seeing scholarly papers criticize other disciplines for approaching a problem the wrong way, attending a variety of workshops at the Forum to entertain various informal interests seemed something of an act of defiance.
The Corps in fact has us regularly committing such acts. Volunteering and visiting outside our specific areas of work are considered almost as valuable as doing so within. Although we come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, we’re largely said to occupy the same field. Those disciplinary divisions that so clearly delineated ourselves as students are breaking down in the interest of a common issue. I can see how projects of conservation and sustainability lend well to that dissolution, as their very concern is the reconciliation of the built environment with the natural one, the human with the nonhuman, our membership in the ecosystem with our membership in the state. For me in particular, no longer is it sensible to think the concerns of humanity a domain disconnected from their tangible surroundings, if I am to work with the attitudes and social phenomena around tangible measures to protect the environment. I’d guess the scientists of the Corps confront a similar dissolution, between science and society and between the branches of science.
At events and site visits, it’s been pleasant spending time around Corps members with other bodies of knowledge, other ways of thinking. On a walk outdoors, I am not in the habit of identifying pieces of infrastructure and kinds of trees, but others are, and they point out to me those interesting bits of the environment we live and work in that I’m not accustomed to notice.
As we unite in looking after our locale, we find it’s good for us to cultivate academic fields both near and far, without pesticides, and with a rain garden in the corner.