Updated: May 13
Dr. Eric Fitch is the Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Marietta College in Ohio. As early as grade-school Eric knew he wanted to pursue a career in the sciences, however the path he took to get there was not as straight as he thought it would be. Along with a strong interest in environmental science, Eric has always been influenced by his faith as a Roman Catholic, and a profession in religion always persisted. Growing up he attended Catholic institutions as well as Catholic Seminaries for his university education, where he desired to become a catholic priest and scientist. Eric recalls, “being a child of the Second Vatican Council, the Environmental Era, the Civil Rights Era, and Atomic and Space Ages, I wanted to be what some would call in modern parlance a social justice warrior and priest”.
During his senior year at St. Meinrad College Seminary, Eric received news that he had been accepted to pursue a Masters in Environmental Science at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Eric’s plan was to take a leave of absence as a Seminarian, obtain the degree from MU and then return to the Diocese after two years and carry out a Masters in Theology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Ecstatic to share the good news and subsequent plan with his vocation director, Eric to his surprise, was not met with support. He recalls, “they wanted me to turn down the opportunity to go to Miami and the Institute of Environmental Sciences…they did not want me to go to the Catholic University afterward either”. Instead the director wanted Eric to attend the North American College in Rome right after graduation. His home Diocese of Toledo, OH wanted him to pursue a Doctorate in Canon Law for the next five years in Rome, during which time he would be ordained into the priesthood without the presence of any family or friends from home. Upon returning home, it was likely Eric would have been assigned a parish and served on the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal for the next twenty years He states, “when I insisted that I wanted to pursue my plan of attending Miami and Catholic University, I was told that if I chose that route, that there would not be a place as a seminarian for me in Toledo…”. Disappointed, but not discouraged Eric set forth on a new path of becoming an Environmental Scientist, professional and professor.
Miami opened new doors for Eric. It was through core courses in environmental politics and administration that he decided to add a second concentration and go after a parallel education in the Natural Science, Social Science and Public Policy side of the field. While studying for his doctorate in Resource Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. Eric began to understand the importance of being affiliated with one or more academic / professional associations. He desired a scholarly home to share his research, engage in his dialogue that reflected his passions, and build relationships, scholarly and personal, with professionals in his field. After several years of searching, he found what he was looking for in the IEA, and in 2001 he attended his first International Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment (IICE) in San Francisco. By the time Eric joined the IEA, the association had six years already under its belt, and a core membership to show for it. Eric remembers entering the conference and being welcomed by an overwhelming sense of fellowship; this is where he belonged. Since 2001, Eric has attended almost every IICE. He has also had the honor to serve as an IEA Member, Conference Chair, Counselor, Vice-President and served as President of the IEA from 2009-2011.
Much of Eric’s research has been focused around bringing justice to underrepresented groups, and in some cases, he uses religious teachings to argue for a greener future. At last years IICE Eric presented Beyond Laudato Se: Pope Francis and further teaching on Water, Ecology, and Other, where he examined Pope Francis’s thoughts and pronouncements on the natural environment, and how recent teachings have been met with resistance and embrace in the church and around the world. Eric plans to present on the interdisciplinary imperatives of powers that benefit from the extractive industries with a focus on restorative justice towards the regions and peoples who have been exploited at next year’s IICE in Mexico City. When asked what his superpower would be, he responded with, “super-persuasion—the ability to convince people of the truth and the wisdom to redress wrongs and bring justice”. Although he’s still without supernatural powers, Dr. Fitch continues to be a force of positive change in his classroom and for his students and colleagues at Marietta and beyond.