Photo courtesy of Ken Bennet

As a member of the graduating class of 1986, Wake Forest’s new Provost, Dr. Rogan Kersh, is no stranger to the university.  Neither is he a stranger to sustainability, an interest he has explored for several decades, or as he quips “since before Al Gore made it cool.” Dr. Kersh has two motivations behind his long-term exploration of sustainability: family and politics. He explains “I am the son and husband of deeply committed environmentalists, [who share a] lifelong passion for environmental preservation, appreciating the bounty of nature, and helping to sustain what it means to be on this earth.”  In addition, a general interest in politics also spurs Dr. Kersh’s exploration of the field.  He adds, “as someone interested in political science and public policy, you find your way to an issue as a way to channel your energies; environment and environmental sustainability have been that for me.”

These twin inspirations keep sustainability a continual theme in Dr. Kersh’s professional and personal life. During his tenure as a professor and associate dean at NYU, he advocated for sustainability through seats on numerous committees and incorporated an environmental perspective into his classes.  His apartment in New York, located within an NYU student residence hall, was also designed to model sustainable campus living.  Dr. Kersh owes much to his former apartment, created by retrofitting a historic building with sustainable features like cork floors and countertops made of recycled medical glass.  Not only did living in such a space illustrate his commitment to reducing his impact, he maintains that his wife, Sara Pesek, most recently the Director of an EPA sponsored Environmental Finance Center, agreed to marry him in part because of his “eco-forward apartment.”

Sustainability will play a role in a comprehensive wellbeing initiative led by Dr. Kersh and the Office of the Provost.  Environmental wellness is one of eight dimensions of wellness the Office of the Provost will incorporate into the holistic examination of wellbeing for all university constituents. Specifically, Dr. Kersh identifies the built environment as one pertinent aspect of environmental wellness to be considered as part of the new wellbeing initiative.  He is proud of Wake Forest’s existing leadership in environmentally responsible construction, particularly South Hall, a LEED Gold-certified first-year student residence hall that features low emission materials and a low-impact ventilation system.

According to Dr. Kersh, sustainability should also play a role in the Wake Forest classroom. His own initial academic exposure to sustainability traces back to his undergraduate career, when he studied the Green Party of West Germany in a course on western European politics.  Dr. Kersh believes incorporating sustainability into the classroom can go well beyond explicit course content though, serving as an aspect of university-wide pedagogy.  He explains “what is special about a Wake Forest education is that subject matter is communicated in the most advanced way possible and the professor also brings other kinds of life enhancing [perspectives] to the classroom…sustainability, which I define as being a responsible steward of the planet we inhabit, is a part of that.”

Dr. Kersh has both the heart of a Deacon and the experience and insight gained from a remarkable career.  He has a vision for the university that both honors Wake Forest’s heritage and embraces necessary innovation.  His lifelong commitment to sustainability bodes well for the continued forward momentum of social and environmental responsibility on campus; as he states “I stand ready and excited to implement new ideas.”

 By Annabel Lang, Presidential Fellow for the Office of Sustainability