Professor’s door opens environment to students

Part Swiss army knife, part compass: that’s Greg Gangi.

For Carolina undergraduates majoring in the environment, the professor fills a variety of invaluable roles. He helps students navigate the academic terrain and get the most out of the many environment-related study and research options at UNC and around the world.

As associate director for education at the UNC Institute for the Environment, Gangi is an advisor, mentor, teacher and field guide for students majoring in environmental science or environmental studies in the College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum in Environment and Ecology.

His door is always open, and sometimes that office “door” is an underwater cave or a tropical jungle. That’s because Gangi spends weeks each year leading students on field-study trips to some of the world’s most interesting and unique ecological regions.

He teaches a course in coral reef ecology and management that includes a spring break snorkeling trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He helped launch a summer program and semester-long field site in the Galapagos Islands, made possible through a partnership between UNC and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. The program enables Carolina undergraduates to explore the diverse ecosystems of that region. He has also taught courses in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and in Siberia.

“As a teacher, I want to create a learning environment that extends beyond the classroom,” said Gangi. “One of the lessons I try to convey is that the generation of knowledge can be an exciting and adventurous process. That’s why I encourage them to attend one of the field sites managed by the Institute for the Environment.”

Whether on campus or traveling for research, Gangi is ready to discuss students’ career interests, plan an academic course, arrange internships or recommend extracurricular activities.

“Shaped my college experience”

“Dr. Gangi has really shaped my college experience,” said Stephanie Tolar, a sophomore environmental science major. “He took time to get to know me as a person, not as just a résumé, a set of classes or a GPA. In a university of thousands of undergraduates, I have someone who cares about my interests and goals, and who I can always go to if I need help with anything at UNC.”

A tropical ecologist by training (he earned his Ph.D. at Carolina), Gangi has long been interested in the relationship between the environment and society, as well as conservation and sustainable development, public policy and international studies. He teaches several courses on campus, but Carolina students especially enjoy his weekly lunches and field study trips, when Gangi becomes not only an instructor but also a companion. Since his UNC teaching career began in 2000 he has won numerous teaching and advising awards, including the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Morgan Edwards, a 2010 UNC graduate pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering systems at MIT, can testify to Gangi’s influence. Her academic work included field-study trips to the Sierras and the Virgin Islands, which helped her focus on research in developing metrics for evaluating environmental impacts of energy technologies.

“Dr. Gangi has had a tremendous impact on my UNC experience and my career opportunities after graduation. His passion for the environment helped engage me and other students with the important environmental challenges facing our generation. His advice and teaching were instrumental in shaping my career path after graduation.”

Published April 19, 2012.