ISAT professor leads sustainability initiatives

Jared Stoltzfus

SUMMARY: Jared Stoltzfus, a professor in JMU’s Integrated Science and Technology Program (ISAT), utilizes his experience and expertise in sustainability to make a real impact on his students, the community and the world.

By Caleb Ayers
CISE Student Writer

Jared Stoltzfus was on track to attend medical school, but wasn’t completely sure about his path forward. While he was volunteering at Hospitalito Atitlán in Santiago, Guatemala—an effort to rekindle his passion for medicine—Tropical Storm Stan unleashed seven days of rain, resulting in mudslides that inflicted casualties and buried homes. “Mud piled up to the hospital’s roof and broke through the front doors,” said Stoltzfus.

Environmental work had interested Stoltzfus since high school, and that appeal had grown during his undergraduate studies in biology at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). But it was that firsthand experience with the detrimental consequences of those mudslides—an environmental phenomenon—that buried the last of his aspirations to be a doctor and solidified his desire to study the environment.

When he came home, Stoltzfus got married and worked as Harrisonburg’s Stream Health Coordinator for several years. After another year in Guatemala with Virginia Mennonite Missions, he began his Ph.D. work at Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Sustainability. The program provided him a strong understanding of interconnected areas of environment, economy and society—the three pillars of sustainability. After graduating from ASU and teaching chemistry in Albania, he began his journey as an ISAT professor.

Stoltzfus attempts to use his education to help solve problems in the community. He is using his dissertation, which explores organic waste management strategies, to aid a group that is working to divert waste from landfills in Harrisonburg. The group, which includes students and community members, will guide Harrisonburg in meeting their new sustainability goals, and will later make state-wide recommendations. “I am excited to be putting my research to work on real-world Virginia problems,” he said.

But that is not the only impact Stoltzfus plans on making. He recently bought a plot of land where he will build an environmentally friendly farmhouse—and hopes to construct a natural swimming pool based on a current student project. While he and his wife plan to use the house as a bed and breakfast, Stoltzfus also wants to offer students another space to build projects. He has fond memories of experimentation—like the time he utilized used cooking oil from Taste of Thai to make biodiesel for his Volkswagen bug—and he hopes to provide a place where students can engage in similar hands-on activities.

Stoltzfus is passionate about empowering and working with his students. “I like the small classes and groups, building relationships, helping students explore their interests, and pushing them outside their comfort zone,” he said.

Stoltzfus is planning a study abroad trip to Guatemala, which will take place this summer. By allowing the students to experience many of the same places that solidified his passion for environmental issues, he hopes to stoke their interests and expose them to new ideas. Whether it be working with the City of Harrisonburg, helping students with projects, or creating a new study abroad program, Stoltzfus epitomizes the ideals of ISAT: tackling real issues with multi-disciplinary collaboration. “Ideally I can use my position at JMU to help bring different groups of people together to solve a variety of local problems,” he said.


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Published: Monday, November 26, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

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