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Environmentally-Conscious Education

As a county supervisor, state representative, a state senator, and an Arizona member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Karan English always kept one issue front-and-center: environmental protection. It seems only natural, then, that when she ended life in politics, she drew upon her political savvy to incorporate environmental values into higher education. 

After English’s defeat in the 1994 election, she looked to Arizona’s three state universities for opportunities to infuse environmental philosophy with higher education. Ultimately, she chose Northern Arizona University. “While I was in politics, NAU was the only one of the three [Arizona state] institutions that emphasized conservation and environmental education,” she says.

Shortly after arriving at Northern Arizona University, English brought her political experience to the classroom, and taught a course called “The Real Congress,” to provide students with an insider’s perspective on Congress. She also donated her congressional papers and other political papers to Cline Library, which spans 14 years of English’s political work. 

The environment is everywhere

As a university staff member, English became involved in construction projects, classes, and scholarships to instill environmental values into every aspect of the university.

“Through all these different projects, those are examples of how the environment and conservation are not a three-unit class to be added to a student’s course list, but in fact, it’s part of everyday life,” she says. "I really believe that every aspect of our society relies on a healthy environment–social, educational, economic, even spiritual–I can't think of a part of society that doesn't rely on the environment. The future will require us to make that connection. Students who are aware of those connections will have better opportunities."

Some of English’s achievements at the university include:

  • establishing scholarships for students pursuing environmental studies
  • founding a twice weekly-program on KNAU called Earth Notes, which discusses “the positive side of conservation and environmentalism”
  • donating a San Juan River Permit for the university’s use
  • involvement in the university’s Environmental Caucus, a group of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members who work together to build environmental initiatives that impact everything from campus construction to curriculum
  • earning her master’s degree in sustainable communities in 2011

English was also instrumental in the design of the Applied Research and Development (ARD) building. She worked with a “green team” to choose an architect who would move the design in the most environmental direction possible. “We wanted to build the greenest university building in the country,” she says. In addition, English says she wanted to capture cultural sensitivities in the building’s site selection and materials. For example, the main entrance points to the East to regard Native American traditions that revere the East.

In pursuit of democracy

She continues to pursue her passion for democracy, by participating in the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs. Through the organization, she travels to countries–many of them developing–that are trying to establish democratic governments. English and a team of up to seven representatives from other democracies help oversee elections, train women to run for office, or talk to new legislative bodies about how to interact with other levels of government.

English's many hats don't end there. She also finds time to head to Washington, D.C. each month to serve the Office of Congressional Ethics. As one of eight nonpartisan board members, she oversees complaints that come from the public or elsewhere, investigating questionable activities of members of Congress and their staff.

"I believe the work we're doing will help Congress be more aware of the rules they make for themselves," she says. "Hopefully, over time we will help to establish trust and bring back faith in the congressional body."

While it may seem like English's many roles are diverse, she believes that they all help strengthen her capacity to facilitate the changes she'd like to see in the world. "The environment is a key issue worldwide, so if I can help bring it to the forefront, I will do it," she says.