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Gareau Takes Sociological Approach To Environmentalism

Professor Profile

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 19:02

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Emily Fahey/Photo Editor

Boston College’s Brian Gareau didn’t always plan on being a professor. Now specializing in the sociology of global environmental governance and teaching classes ranging from Society and Environmental Transformations to an international studies senior seminar, the decision to pursue a career in academia came both later and abruptly for the now BC faculty member. 

Growing up in the suburbs of Hartford, Conn., Gareau had a different route in mind than the one that led him to his current career, an assistant professor in BC’s sociology and international studies departments. 

The only childhood precursor to the countless environmental sociology publications he has now authored was the amount of time he spent outside exploring his hometown of Glastonbury, Conn. “There was lots of hiking and playing,” Gareau said. “I would get in trouble for collecting snakes and trying to store them in my garage, lots of that kind of stuff.” 

More than time spent attempting to tap neighbors’ maple trees or building forts, Gareau was outside playing soccer. Starting at the age of four and continuing to play on multiple teams today, the sport was not only an example of time spent outside but something that heavily influenced Gareau’s decisions. 

“That’s where the question about how I got involved in sociology is funny, because I basically went to college to play soccer,” said the assistant professor, who has now been involved with environmental science or sociology programs in at least four major research universities.

Gareau enrolled at Providence College in the early 1990s to continue playing the sport he so much enjoyed. “That’s what my goal was, to play division one soccer in the Big East,” he said. “I had to take classes to play soccer and that’s how I treated college, which probably looks pretty strange at this point.”  

Before he graduated in 1996, Gareau took an environmental biology class that changed both his perspective and his career path. Similar to Society and Environmental Transformations, which he teaches at BC, the course focused on a natural science perspective of how human beings are changing their environment. 

“It totally blew my mind,” he said. “It really opened me up to a whole new world—I had always enjoyed hiking and backpacking and things outside, but I had never really thought about the impact people are having on their surroundings until I took that class.” 

Graduating in 1996 with a degree in social science and a minor in environmental studies, Gareau looks to that class as a point that “transformed” what he wanted to do with his life. “It was the start of my career,” he said. “Becoming a professional soccer player seemed less and less interesting than a job that would allow me to find a way to make humans conduct their affairs more sustainably.” 

Upon graduating Gareau applied to both environmental science master’s programs as well as the Peace Corps, hoping to be accepted into one of them in order to further his study and involvement in the new career path he had chosen. Getting in to both options, Gareau decided to pursue the Master’s International Program with the Peace Corps through Washington State University, in which he received a Master’s degree in environmental science and regional planning after studying both in the U.S. and for two years in Honduras. 

“Before I went into the Peace Corps I thought I wanted to be an environmental scientist, I went to study shade coffee production and sustainability,” he said. “I came out very disgruntled with the way that sustainable development was happening all over the world, and decided I wanted to focus on sociology in order to learn more about the social relationships that are embedded in these environmental problems.”

After writing a master’s thesis critiquing sustainable development, Gareau headed to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he received a doctoral degree in sociology with a focus in environmental science and soon after was offered his current job at BC. 

“I chose BC for a couple of reasons,” Gareau said. “First, the sociology program is well known for its emphasis on social justice, critical sociology, and devotion to public sociology. But it was also important for me that this is a Jesuit institution and their concerns with social justice and educating the whole person—wanting their professors to be more than just lecturers in a really deliberate kind of way.” 

Now conducting research as well as teaching multiple classes each semester in a department that includes his wife, Tara Pisani, Gareau has found a career much different than he ever expected, rooted in society and environmental relationships.

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