Graduate Degree Program in Ecology celebrates 25th anniversary

The Graduate Degree Program in Ecology celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this month, which included events reflecting on the program’s past and future, student presentations, and a reception. The three-day celebration was jointly hosted with the Front Range Student Ecology Symposium.

Presenter at the GDPE anniversary event.
Professor Joe von Fischer speaks during 25th anniversary events.

“We say the 25th loosely,” said John Weins, former professor of ecology, conservation and landscape ecology, and an early program founder. “This anniversary is hard to pinpoint because the foundation of this program has been in the works for much longer.” Weins and Beatrice Van Horne, another early founder, were among the invited speakers at the celebration.

The Graduate Degree Program in Ecology (GDPE) includes master’s and doctoral students. It is a designated Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence by the Office of the Vice President for Research, and is a special academic unit within the Graduate School.

The program is considered an early success in cross-departmental collaboration. Students within represent 23 departments and eight colleges. According to its leaders, it is a truly interdisciplinary effort that offers a fresh perspective within a university system.

“There are people across many different departments that find ecology as a common interest,” said Colleen Webb, director of the GDPE program and a professor in the Department of Biology.  “GDPE serves as a platform at a university level that helps students in departments apply ecology type questions to their specific research.”

Cara Steger in the field with Abebe.
Cara Steger with Abebe, one of her primary collaborators in her Ethiopia field work.

Over the past 25 years, GDPE has achieved a national reputation, setting a standard for excellence in research, teaching, and service. There are 120 students in the program and over 200 faculty members.

“We already had that stature in a way at CSU, but the program grew organically,” Webb said.  “These ideas were already happening; we just needed a vehicle to carry them through, and that is GDPE.”

Cara Steger, doctoral student in GDPE, is working on a collaborative conservation project in Ethiopia together with plant biologists, local resource users and government officials.

“GDPE forces you out of your department and helps students interact with other disciplines early in their career,” Steger said. “We need to understand each other if we are going to collaborate effectively around pressing ecological problems.”