Erin Barton U-M Student Profile

Rebecca Lerner
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Students and Sustainability Profile Series

Erin Barton

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, Erin Barton moved north to Ann Arbor to work towards her Master of Science in Conservation Ecology at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment.

When asked about her favorite sustainability project, Barton described a research effort based on the question “Are sustainable cities a contradiction in terms?” She worked with students from Leuphana University in Luneburg, Germany. Her work drew upon complex adaptive systems theory to examine the evolution of corn agricultural networks in the US and Mexico from pre-colonial times to the present. Barton wants to continue studying the complex interrelations between human and natural systems at U-M.

“I haven’t been here very long, but I enjoy both soil ecology (NRE430) and forest ecology (NRE547). Mainly this is because I enjoy going out in the field. Fieldwork has always been something I am fond of. I have also always wanted to take a soils class because soil is such an essential part of ecosystems. Not understanding something about the soil makes it a lot harder to understand what’s going on in the system.”

Barton also discussed the way in which the field of sustainability is developing and emphasized that she is looking forward to the way the area is becoming defined.

“Right now “sustainability” means a lot of different things. It is a very broad term,” Barton said. “I am also interested to see how the applied research that tends to be associated with the field relates to more theoretical research.”

Barton is enthusiastic about the possibilities of advancing her career in environmental studies and practice. However, she is also realistic about the difficulties and uncertainties of the field, distinguishing between established and more independent areas. Barton also talked about adapting to Michigan, her research concerning the climate, and our seasonal weather in Michigan.

“It is very different from the environments I am accustomed to,” Barton confirmed. “I’m from the Phoenix area in Arizona, which is in the Sonoran Desert. This is the first time I’ve seen the leaves turn. It’s also the first time I’ve had to think about rain boots, snow boots, and winter coats.”

Barton traveled to the Upper Peninsula for the U-M fall break and spent time along the Lake Superior shore. She noticed scrubby little conifer woods going right up close to the shore and found Michigan’s forest and lake systems intriguing. “I would have sworn I was at the sea except there was no salt smell in the air. It was fantastic. I’m thinking of trying to look at shoreline forests for my thesis, now.”

Note: Barton is also working as a science writer at the Graham Sustainability Institute.


Barton's Summer Internship with The Nature Conservancy

Dow Sustainability Fellows - Global Impact Series

School for Environment and Sustainability