Professor of Biology & Director of Sustainability Studies, Director of RJ, Fellows Honors Program in Leadership and Change, Scheller Endowed Professor , Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA
Rich Niesenbaum received a BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, an MS in Biological Oceanography and Marine Biology from the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology from the University of Pennsylvania. He first taught at Swarthmore College and then arrived at Muhlenberg in 1993 where he teaches Ecology and Evolution, Plant Ecology, Economic Botany, and Sustainability Studies. Rich has been consistently recognized as an innovative teacher and was one of the founders of Muhlenberg’s Faculty Center for Teaching. Currently, Rich is a Professor of Biology, serves as the Director of the Sustainability Studies Program, directs an honors program on leadership and change, and co-directs the Office of Campus Sustainability. He served as Chair of The Biology Department, one of the largest programs at the College, for six years.
As an “inderdisciplinarian”, Rich has collaborated widely across disciplines. These collaborations have resulted in published work with colleagues in the social sciences, humanities and arts, and other areas of science. Rich’s research has focused on two distinct, but related areas: plant ecology, and sustainability. In plant ecology with over $1 million in research funding from The National Science Foundation, he has focused on the ecological, genetic, and chemical factors that influence insect herbivory and supported an extensive undergraduate research and post-doctoral training program.
In the area of sustainability, Rich has worked internationally with the Rodale Institute on measuring the success of sustainable practice in northern Guatemala, and on developing ways to effectively link social, economic, and ecological indicators in the evaluation of international conservation and development projects. He has been working in the Costa Rican community of Las Juntas de Abangares for 15 years on eco-educational tourism development, on public health and environmental studies on the effects of local gold mining, and the development of alternative fuels. As part of this, he developed one of the first short-term study abroad programs at the College and has to date taken nearly 200 students to this region of Costa Rica. Rich also studies and is developing modes of sustainable urban fish production for local markets through is organization, UrbanEcoFish. Rich has published dozens of scholarly articles in the areas of ecology, environmental and science education, and sustainable development; and has mentored over 60 undergraduate research students who have gone on to have successful careers in the sciences and related fields. He is the author of two forthcoming books, Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations (Oxford University Press), In Exchange for Gold: The Legacy and Sustainability of Artisanal Gold Mining In Las Juntas de Abangares (Common Ground Publishing) with Photographer Joseph Elliott.
Rich is currently a resident of the historic section of Allentown, PA and is active in the redevelopment of that community. He has served on local planning and environmental advisory commissions, and was named a “Lehigh Valley Mover & Shaper” by Lehigh Valley Magazine in 2005 for his advocacy in the area of Fair Trade and sustainable product development. He currently serves on the AASHE Board of Advisors. He also owns and is developing a small experimental, sustainability research farm in Owego, New York. Outside of his professional life, he plays ice hockey, and enjoys the outdoors with his family.
Spicebush Research: Plant-Insect Interactions