Prof Talk: Meet Margot Higgins, the Environmental Studies department’s newest professor!
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Prof Talk: Meet Margot Higgins, the Environmental Studies department’s newest professor!

*Photo by Will Milch ’19.*
Photo by Will Milch ’19.

Meet the newest addition to the Environmental Studies department!

Professor Higgins is teaching two courses in the environmental studies department this semester, Cycling the Urban Landscape and Americans and Global Parks and Wilderness. The Mac Weekly sat down with her to talk courses, biking in Minnesota winter and more!

Is this your first time in Minnesota?
This is my first time in Minnesota. I just finished my PhD at UC Berkeley in Environmental Science, Policy and Management. So I’m a new graduate and feel very happy to have landed here. I’m very fortunate.

What’s your impression of Minnesota so far?
Well, I’ve been surprisingly happy for having never set foot in a place and having no community when first coming here. For not knowing anyone, I’m surprisingly happy.

My impression is that people are also really happy and stay here almost their entire lives. It seems like if people leave here, they come back. There’s a lot of emphasis on family. I went to a faculty Halloween party, and they blocked off the entire neighborhood and it was just swimming with children and parents who seemed very dedicated to making sure their children had a good time. There was a real sense of community. And I’m loving the river and all of the bicycling opportunities. For me that’s a real highlight that Minneapolis is consistently rated one of the top biking cities. It’s often number one, or sometimes rivaling Portland. In terms of my personal interest in both the activity and the activism surrounding bicy- cling, it’s a really nice fit.

And what’s your impression of Macalester so far?
My impression is that it’s a really special spot. The students have been very hardworking and have been very easy to work with. I feel like everyone is really excited to learn. It’s so different than my experience at Berkeley, where there were giant classes. Sometimes I would be instructing 75 students in 3 different sections in the course of a semester, and there were many students there who were just there to fill a requirement, or who didn’t have a lot of interest in the subject matter. There was a real range. There were also some students who were very very talented and very, very smart as well. This is just such a treat to get to teach small classes and to be part of this really genuine community. There’s a huge sense of community on campus. I’m always running into people, and within my department, I feel really supported. The professors seem enthusiastic about me teaching this bicycling course again in the spring, so that feels really nice. I will be teaching a Bicycling the Urban Landscape winter course.

That sounds really cool! Are you going to be hitching up snow tires and everything?
Well, we are going to talk about proper winter cycling technique, but that doesn’t mean necessarily having to invest a lot. I’ve been doing some research around town and I’m hearing that you can transform a beat up old mountain bike with some good treaded tires, and often the bicycle trails are so well-maintained that they actually snow plow them before they pay attention to the streets, so it’s actually quite lovely. Also ice doesn’t seem to be as prominent here, so snow is one thing, ice is another. This will be my first Minnesota winter, so I have a lot to learn. I imagine bicycling will be more difficult on the in-street bike lanes because the snow plow will push people closer to traffic, but on the bike trails it sounds like it won’t be too bad. I’m about 95 percent car-free, so I’m hoping that I can continue that pattern.

Right on! Do you bike to work every day?
I do, and on very rainy days, I live a block from the bus stop, so I’m very fortunate in that way, and very lucky.

Will this be your first time biking in snow and super cold weather?
I did live in Missoula [Montana], and I did bike in winter conditions there, but it was never over snow. It was usually when the streets had been plowed. I did have studded tires, but I didn’t end up using them much. I have given students [inter- ested in the winter biking class] the heads-up that they will have to invest in bicycle gear on some level, but we won’t be using a lot of text books, so hopefully that will be a reasonable trade-off. They’ll also be able to use their bicycles outside of class. I also imagine that most students have bicycles that they can modify.

Do you have your classes all nailed down for spring?
I do. I’ll be teaching this Bicycling the Urban Landscape course again. I’ll also be teaching Environmental Politics and Policy and Environmental History.

Any final thoughts?
It’s a treat to have a real fall. We don’t get that as much in California. It’s been gorgeous and I’ve enjoyed that. Really I think the biggest thing that I’ve experienced at Macalester is that it’s just really welcoming and there’s a real sense of community on campus.

November 6, 2015

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