Dr. Michael Charles Tobias has known he was meant to be an ecologist— after seeing a caged wolf for the first time. Since then, Tobias has spent decades conducting field research in over 80 countries; and now Tobias has brought his artistry and experience to Georgia College as he serves as the fourth Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar.
“As an ecologist, what initially attracted me to the college was the region’s bioculturalism and amazing biodiversity; not to mention such prominent figures as William Bartram and Flannery O'Connor. Ecologically, Georgia is certainly emblematic of one of the most diverse biological repositories in North America. Of course, like every other state, it has its poignant share of officially threatened and endangered species,” said Tobias, who is also the long-time president of the Dancing Star Foundation, a nonprofit based in California, New Mexico and New Zealand focused on international biodiversity conservation, global environmental education and animal protection.
Internationally noted ecologist, filmmaker, author and explorer Tobias combines disciplines to offer a blended academic experience. Tobias has authored 50 books —his most recent being "Why Life Matters: Fifty Ecosystems of the Heart and Mind" and "The Metaphysics of Protection,"—both written with his wife, ecologist Jane Gray Morrison. Tobias has written, directed and/or produced well over 100 films, including his groundbreaking PBS special, "Ahimsa-NonViolence," shot in countless locations across India, and which Tobias will be screening in one of his many public presentations during his residency at Georgia College.
During Tobias' time at Georgia College, he will host screenings of some of those films, including his feature film trilogy, "Mad Cowboy," "No Vacancy" and "Hotspots," which were filmed at locations around the world.
Also as part of his residency, Tobias will give numerous faculty lectures and student table talks at the MAX, as well as teach an intimate course titled, Embracing Co-existence, which focuses on anthrozoology, ecological aesthetics and the history of ideas concerning the human relationship to nature.
“What I'm hoping to engender for students in this course is a very broad arena of ideas concerning the environment - from a multitude of disciplines and perspectives - that will challenge them to move fluently between idealism and the pragmatic in thinking about the regional and global environmental crises and wonderments in past, present and future generations,” said Tobias. “Students will have the opportunity to create something that is meaningful to them —whether that be the writing of a research paper, painting, photography, poetry or filmmaking, or volunteering for local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), shelters, sanctuaries or agencies devoted to protecting the environment.”
Tobias will also bring two renowned speakers to campus, both friends and colleagues of his. On March 31, the college will host People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President and Co-founder Ingrid Newkirk. On April 5, Tobias will hold a discussion on campus with Dr. G. Wayne Clough, former secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and president emeritus of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He will mentor students in the Documentary Filmmaking course during his residency as well, while they work on the one-hour film, “Bioreverie.” The concept created by Tobias, will be filmed, produced and, if finished by the end of the semester, screened for the campus and community. It takes place at Lake Laurel and will depict individuals experiencing nature in unique ways.
“’Bioreverie’ is an ambitious collaboration between students, faculty, staff and community members—all who will participate in this experience that celebrates bringing people together from sunrise to sunset to explore the science, history and rich biodiversity of a miraculous 70-acres or so of Central Georgia,” said Tobias.
Angela Criscoe, senior lecturer of mass communication, will teach the documentary course this semester and says Tobias will play an instrumental role in the department this spring.
“Students in the Documentary Filmmaking course will have the opportunity to work beside Dr. Tobias, known for his love of science and also for his knowledge and skill in filmmaking,” said Criscoe. “Many of the students in this course have produced a good amount of quality video and they are excited to take their skills to the next level with this project. While working on this documentary, students will also study the history of documentary filmmaking, analyze and critique a variety of documentaries and develop a concept for their own documentary film.”
The Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar program was established in 2011 with an endowment from Georgia College alumna, Martha Daniel Newell, ’42. The program is designed to reinforce Georgia College’s liberal arts mission by providing a rare and exciting opportunity for the college community to work alongside a nationally recognized scholar-in-residence.
For more information on the Newell Scholar Program, visit gcsu.edu/newellvisitingscholar. For updates on Newell Scholar events and programming, visit frontpage.gcsu.edu.