By Karl Moffatt
Las Vegas Optic
Andrew Egan, director of the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at Highlands University, has been awarded his second Fulbright scholarship to conduct research and teaching in Nepal and will also soon be leaving the institute to become the dean of science faculty at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada.
Referring to a popular local eatery, Egan said, “I guess it’s a good time to go now that Estella’s has closed,” he said of his departure at the end of May after three years at the helm of the organization that works with federal, state and local governments and the public to reduce the threat of catastrophic forest fires and restore forest health.
The institute maintains its offices on the campus of New Mexico Highlands University, where students can enroll in the only bachelor of science in forestry program offered in the state.
Egan, 60, says Kent Reid, the Institute’s forester, will fill in as interim director while the organization searches for his replacement.
Egan said he will be returning to teach and conduct research at Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Forestry at Pokhara in Nepal where he will teach a graduate level course in community forestry and an undergraduate level course in the care and cultivation of forests known as Silviculture.
Egan said he first went to Nepal as a Fulbright scholar in August 2004 and stayed through December of that year.
His second scholarship will allow him to continue with some of the relationships and work he started back then.
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends roughly 1,100 American scholars and professionals each year to about 125 countries where they lecture and or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
The program is funded through the Department of State by the federal government with some financial contributions from participating countries.
It is named after Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who sponsored legislation back in 1946 to create the program, according to information from the agency that administers it for the government, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, a division of the Institute of International Education.
More than 300,000 scholars have gone through the program since its inception with many having gone on to become heads of state, ambassadors, cabinet minsters, CEOs, university presidents, artists, professors, teachers and even journalists, states a scholarship award letter sent to Egan.
In addition, 43 Fulbright scholars have also gone on to earn a Nobel Prize.
The overall Fulbright Program, which includes several different categories, awards approximately 8,000 grants annually with about 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, 900 visiting scholars, several hundred teachers and professionals receiving awards.
The overall program currently operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.
Egan says his time in Las Vegas and New Mexico with the institute has been very rewarding, especially their project with the Alamo Band of the Navajo Nation near Magdalena N.M. where tribal members were taught wood cutting and forest thinning skills and the byproducts then sold on the open market.
Egan says his experience in New Mexico has led him to conclude that the Gallinas River watershed, which supplies much of Las Vegas’ water supply, is in grave danger from a catastrophic forest fire and subsequent flooding.
Egan has since been working with the Gallinas Partnership composed of local, state and federal officials and members of the public to address fire-related issues threatening the Las Vegas watershed and expects that entity to continuing working toward solutions.
Egan says he hopes local, state and federal officials will see the need, as he does, for the training of crews of wood cutters and forest thinners to work around the state to reduce the threat of catastrophic forest fires like those that have ravaged the environment here in recent years.
As for his time in Las Vegas, Egan says that some of the nicest people he has ever met were right here.
Egan is married to Martha Van Der Voort, a researcher in Highlands University’s Genetics Department, and they have a 14-year-old daughter, Willa, a student at Memorial Middle School.
Egan has taught in Canada before at Laval University in Quebec and at the University of Maine in Orono. He was formerly the dean of the School of Forestry and Natural Resources at Paul Smith’s College within Adirondack Park State Park in Upstate New York.
Egan grew up in Garden City, N.Y., and holds a doctorate from Penn State, a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and his undergraduate degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut.
After obtaining his master’s degree in Silviculture, Egan spent several years working as a commercial logger in New Hampshire.
“Now that was good hard work,” he says.