With a BA in Biology, a teaching certificate, and a master’s in Plant Genetics, Thomas now strives to create an environmentally healthy Portland while teaching others how to join in. As the Director of Education for Portland Parks & Recreation, Thomas brings students to help with and learn about the various projects she has started. The students range from all ages and include some of Reed’s own.
Thomas’s goal with her projects is an extension of Portland Parks & Rec’s motto: “’Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland,’ and I’d like to add Healthy People, too,” she says. Thomas currently focuses on two projects: the Migratory Bird Treaty Program and the Amphibian Monitoring Project. The Amphibian Monitoring Project is mainly conducted in Oak’s Bottom, a common service site for Reedies. Thomas observes the amphibians and their interaction with the Oak’s Bottom environment. She then looks for ways that Oaks Bottom and parks across Portland can improve the environment in order to ensure the safety and livelihood of their amphibian inhabitants. The program requires continual monitoring of species populations and human impacts. Thomas said, “When I see changes, I ask myself, ‘Is it bad change?’ and ‘Is there a way to mitigate what has been done?’” She attributes her ability to ask meaningful questions to her education at Reed. She says that asking these questions has become her strength in the program and largely informs her ability to educate children about the work she’s doing. Thomas greatly appreciates this same spirit of enthusiasm and curiosity in her Reed volunteers.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Program, Thomas’s other project, works with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to research and prevent the plight of urban birds’ habitat. The program has four main facets: education, restoration, removal of invasive species, and resolution of bird hazards. Through her research, Thomas is able to track which migratory birds are in the highest danger and can then locate solutions to the issues. Right now, Thomas and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are developing guidelines for homeowners and architects and are lobbying at Congress for stricter tower standards. One of the many changes Thomas wishes to see is non-reflective and angled windows.
Emily Crotteau, the environmental intern for SEEDS, is one of many Reedies who delights in working with Thomas. Crotteau has worked with Thomas at Oak’s Bottom since her freshman year in a variety of ways, from planting trees to conducting amphibian surveys. Crotteau said, “What’s awesome about Sue is the thoughtfulness and sense of perspective she brings to the work she does. For instance, her work is by definition focused on environmental restoration, but rather than cordoning off ‘the environment’ in some pristine, inaccessible box, she actively searches for ways to make it engaging and participatory for people, especially for children.” Crotteau hopes that other Reed students will join her and help contribute to Thomas’s work.