Water, People, and the Planet


As a teacher and scientist, Professor Jeff La Frenierre works to show how interactions between humans and the environment drive some of the biggest challenges facing our planet. He is fascinated with mountain landscapes and the relationship between water and people. In the classroom he works to have students challenge their preconceived notions about the world around them. “As a professor, I want my students to have an awareness of this inherent complexity between the environment and society, and I hope, perhaps more than anything else, that they leave my classes with a desire to be more engaged in responding to this challenge.”

As a global citizen he wants to find ways to preserve and restore the natural environment while also working toward greater socioeconomic equality. “Resolving these environmental challenges offers the opportunity to make the world a truly better place,” Jeff says.

Resolving these environmental challenges offers the opportunity to make the world a truly better place.

Jeff partners with students in his research in order to help them understand these real-life issues. Together they’ve traveled to the Andes in Ecuador to learn about how Ecuadorians are being–-or will be--impacted by local manifestations of global climate change. With these primary experiences, his students return to the United States ready to make a difference. “Each student has returned with a greater appreciation for the problems posed by climate change and the inherent unfairness of its impacts on rural, developing areas,” he says. “This has clearly motivated each to make climate justice an important consideration in their future lives.”

Jeff remembers his own time as a student and the investment his professors made in him. “It was one of the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received,” he says. “I chose to become a professor so that I can try to repay this investment and have a similar impact on my students. When I see them leave Gustavus and begin making a positive difference in the wider world, I know that I’m leading a life of purpose. That, too, is an incredibly valuable gift that I appreciate every day.”

He sees firsthand how Gusties care about the world around them. Whether it’s outside their own back door or on an Ecuadorian mountaintop. “Gustavus is a community of students, scholars, and people concerned with facilitating discovery and the pursuit of knowledge,” Jeff says. “Being part of this community, and seeing the enthusiasm so many at Gustavus have for finding ways to make the world a better place, inspires me every day to work just a little bit harder to do the same.”