Forrest Schoessow: Geography’s Foot Soldier

Forrest Schoessow - Utah State University

Forrest Schoessow said being trained to write like a scientist makes it hard to write about yourself. But we have no problem writing about him because there is so much to say!

From getting his undergraduate degree at Ohio State to traveling across Russia by foot, Schoessow is the definition of what it means to “live more.” With an undergraduate degree in History with emphases in Middle Eastern Culture and the Arabic Language, Schoessow never thought he’d be studying geography, earth sciences, or natural disasters, let alone teaching about them. But his worldwide travels helped him come to love these subjects.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Schoessow found himself volunteering for AmeriCorps in the mountains of Montana. Placed in Montana Conservation Corp as a Youth Crew Leader, he led at risk youth on 28-day expeditions teaching them about wilderness education and working alongside them to improve public lands.

“That really got me excited about teaching,” Schoessow said.

Following his experience in Montana he moved to Bolivia to work on a sustainable, self-sufficient farm, applying the wilderness and resource management skills and knowledge he’d gained from his time in Montana.

After spending time in Bolivia, Schoessow hoped to return to Montana, but broke his leg making it difficult for him to find work. During this time he decided he wanted an experience that was new and would stretch him, so he accepted a position teaching English, science and math in Korea.

“I decided to push myself outside my comfort zone. That totally opened my eyes to how people use natural resources and how important globalization is,” he said.

Inspired by these new perspectives, Schoessow decided to find his way home without the use of an airplane for transportation. He made his way across Russia and Iceland by biking, walking, hitchhiking and riding trains.

Upon returning to the United States, he organized a canoe trip from Minnesota to Mississippi to study river and community health. During this process, Schoessow discovered research generated and published by USU professors. Through this contact with their research and networking at national conferences, Schoessow became aware of USU’s Environment and Society program. After discovering the central goals of USU as an institution – education, research, and service/outreach – he knew this is where he wanted to begin his graduate studies.

Continuing with his teaching and research interests at USU, Schoessow taught the Intro to GIS class and received the award of Graduate Instructor of the Year. He loves working with students one-on-one and feels that working so closely with the undergraduate student body is an experience unique to Utah State University.

Schoessow’s thesis focuses on perceptions of heat risk during extreme heat events and is drawing on data collected from NASA satellites and the National Weather Service. His findings will be presented at a conference in Boston in April.

Along with another student, Schoessow has also been able to start up what he calls “a mobile education platform.” This is a solar powered school housed inside a truck.

Speaking of their goals, Schoessow said, “We try to break down science concepts both physically, by taking the truck to the people (particularly in remote underserved areas of the state), but also reduce barriers by coming up with activities where you can learn about the solar system, the water cycle, or remote sensing through art activities.”

Schoessow hopes that more trucks can be funded and the project can continue to grow across the state and country.

When asked about his future goals Schoessow said he wants to “Save the planet!” He hopes to do this by helping researchers break through the “research bubble” and collaborate with other scientists, politicians, and businessmen to create innovative solutions to help our local communities, this country and the planet.

Schoessow plans to continue traveling, and he states that dealing with global issues requires a global perspective.

“I always want to be a foot soldier of history and geography and be out there on the front lines figuring out what’s happening and how to address it,” he said.