During those years Burke’s career has led her from the forests of northern New England to the drylands of the American West, and now back east. Last month, Burke, an ecosystem ecologist and former dean of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, was named the 16th
dean in the history of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).
When her appointment was announced
, Yale officials noted that it was that combination of scientific accomplishment, hands-on teaching, and interdisciplinary leadership that made Burke stand out.
Burke, who will begin on Oct. 1, is also the first female dean in the School’s 116-year history.
In Wyoming, her former colleagues say Burke fundamentally transformed the Haub School, helping to strengthen what had previously been a program into one of the leading institutions in the western U.S. for research, teaching, and outreach on natural resource issues. During her tenure, the School experienced a steep increase in enrollment, programming, joint-degree programs, and philanthropic donations.
Burke took particular pride in the school’s interdisciplinary approach to addressing a wide range of complex land-use challenges, from management of recreation on public lands and understanding migratory wildlife populations to achieving a balance between energy production and conservation. And as the lone four-year academic institution in the state, she took seriously their researchers’ capacity to influence meaningful environmental policies.
“Here in Wyoming we have had this phenomenal opportunity to make a difference when it comes to decisions on natural resources,” she said recently. “When a decision-maker or a group of stakeholders wants to know how something works, and how collaborative solutions can be reached, we get the phone call.
“At Yale I think that platform is global.”
fter Middlebury, Indy Burke started a Ph.D. program at Dartmouth, where she planned to examine a forest regeneration phenomenon known as “fir waves,” in which rows of balsam fir trees die synchronously, forming arresting patterns across the landscape. But when her advisor decided to relocate to the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, Burke moved west, too. It was there that she was captured by another natural pattern: she noticed unexpected patterns of sagebrush growth, with lush patches thriving just a few dozen yards from desert-like scarcity.
“And so I had a lot of fun asking questions about where those patterns came from,” she says. “I went from patterns in balsam fir to patterns in sagebrush.”
After finishing her Ph.D. she took a job at Colorado State University where she spent more than two decades as a professor in the Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship. She also eventually became co-director of the graduate program in ecology and was named one of just 10 University Distinguished Teaching Scholars at CSU.