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A Natural Connection

A Natural ConnectionA lifelong love of biology propelled Tufts graduate Eric Strauss into a career as an ecologist.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.02.07] After a family crisis forced Eric Strauss to drop out of high school, his love for biology and his interest in the environment drew him back to the classroom. That same passion and curiosity eventually led him to graduate school at Tufts University. Today, the 47-year-old heads the environmental studies program at Boston College.

"Eric was exceptionally bright," Pete Auger, Strauss’ high school biology teacher, recently recalled to The Boston Globe. Auger (G’89), who also received his Ph.D. in biology from Tufts, was a driving force behind Strauss’ return to high school. He now works alongside his former student as an adjunct faculty member at Boston College,

"Like most unconventionally talented students, he needed to explore issues that were multifaceted,” Auger told the newspaper about Strauss, who earned money as a motorcycle mechanic during his absence from high school. “Motorcycles were intriguing, but his curiosity wouldn't be satisfied by a temporary fascination."

Auger was right. After high school, Strauss continued his education at Emerson College in Boston. He then returned to his native Cape Cod in 1981 to work as a natural resource officer for the Barnstable, Mass., Police Department.

"I wore a Smokey the Bear hat," he told the Globe. "And I enforced hunting and fishing law."

But biology proved to be Strauss’ true passion; after a three-year stint in law enforcement, he returned to academia to pursue his graduate degree at Tufts. He earned his Ph.D. in biology in 1990 and has remained in higher education ever since. Strauss’ research focuses on urban ecology, particularly in the metropolitan Boston area and on Cape Cod.

"Rivers, tree cover, plants and animals all play a vital role in maintaining conditions within our cities," he told the Globe. The newspaper reported that Strauss “wants to be part of maintaining the balance between city dwellers and nature.”

To that end, Strauss helped to create the Urban Ecology Institute, which teaches middle and high school students about science the importance of community development and environmental restoration. Founded in 1998, the nonprofit also partners with communities to improve green spaces.

"Something as simple as planting trees cleans the air, soaks up storm water and reduces heating costs," Strauss told the Globe. "And studies have shown that people behave differently when there are trees around."

Strauss told the newspaper that building suburban communities farther and farther away from urban cities is not the answer to environmental problems. But creating sustainable communities — with “local food resources, local power generation, local decision-making” — is, he told the Globe.

"It would be more a shift in mindset than in quality of life,” he told the newspaper. "I'm not asking people to love animals or to handle snakes. We just can't measure success anymore by the size of someone's house."

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