Chatham Resident Receives Honorary Doctorate in Sweden
Chatham resident Dr. Sue Senecah received an honorary doctorate from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in a formal ceremony on October 5 in Uppsala, Sweden, about 20 miles NW of Stockholm. SLU is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the world. The honorary doctorate is the highest honor that can be conferred in academia. Dr. Senecah was recognized for her leadership in founding and developing the field of Environmental Communication and her expertise in process skills such as dispute resolution and collaborative decision making to help communities manage natural resources in an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable manner. She was nominated by SLU’s Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences faculty that includes natural resources, environmental communication, environment and landscape planning, agriculture, food and biotechnology. The university board confirmed the nomination.
Dr. Senecah remarked, “To have my professional career recognized by academic peers, especially at such a prestigious institution, is such a high and rare honor. It surprised and humbled me. And, it was a lot of fun!”
Dr. Senecah was one of four honorary doctorates honored by SLU, one from each of the four large, main faculties. The formal ceremony was preceded by three days of formal dinner parties; lunches; a 30 minute formal presentation by Dr. Senecah to an auditorium full of professors and students; and an evening rehearsal for the very structured ritual the next afternoon. At the ceremony, Dr. Senecah received an inscribed gold ring, a traditional handmade academic hat, and the doctoral diploma.
After the ceremony, a formal dinner for 400 people was held at Uppsala’s 12th century castle where key moments of Swedish history played out. The grand hall was lined with tapestries. Long tables were lit with large candelabras. All the men wore tails with white cumberbunds and all the women wore floor length evening gowns. Senecah was honored with the Chancellor’s nvitation to give the toast on behalf of the honorary doctors.
After a 17 year career as professor of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, Dr. Senecah is now professor emeritus. She led the creation of the B.S, M.S, and Ph.D. programs in environmental communication and participatory processes at SUNY ESF and still teaches her course in Collaborative Governance. Dr. Senecah explains that environmental communication is difficult to describe, “You can’t point to it the way you can with forestry, landscape architecture, marine biology, agriculture, or other topic-centered fields. Environmental Communication is applicable to all other fields because it deals with the dynamic communication processes by which humans work out their relationship with each other and the environment. This could be through inclusive public engagement, collaborative decision making, dispute resolution, awareness campaigns, and other processes to address complex and contentious environmental and natural resource management issues.” Senecah explains that the series of community conversations that were held during the early stage of the Town of Chatham’s revision of its comprehensive master plan was one example of environmental communication in action.
Senecah calls herself a “pracademic” because she practices the theories and skills she teaches as a professor. She has worked with just about every kind of federal and state agency, nongovernmental organization, community, business, and stakeholder to productively address issues such as forest plan revision, land use, hazardous and solid waste management, wildlife management, water quality, and heritage corridors.
Senecah is considered the key founder of the field of Environmental Communication over the past 25 years and has been recognized with several awards. The field has been established in the US for nearly 20 years, with conferences and an academic journal. Today Environmental Communication is a common program of study at large and small US and increasingly international universities. However, this past June was a milestone. The newly established International Environmental Communication Association sponsored its first conference with 34 countries represented. Dr. Senecah was honored as a keynote speaker.
|Photo courtesy of: Chatham Courier and Register Star|