I have lived in Tucson with my family since joining the University of Arizona faculty in 2012. At the University I am a Professor of Environmental Politics, which means that I teach classes and pursue funded research about the environment and how people, organizations, and governments can either pursue or impede environmental sustainability. Sustainability is not just about protecting nature, but also promoting human well-being at the same time. We cannot have one without the other.
I grew up in the Eastern US and going West was never something I expected to do. However, Tucson is a very special place within the larger distribution of where one could go, and this is not only because of the excellent University. As a Colombian-American family we love how Latin culture permeates the living experience in Tucson. As a teacher and scholar of environmental problems, I appreciate Tucson’s deep history of environmental thinking and innovation.
In fact, I first came here as a college student to study environmental science and policy at Biosphere 2, one of our famous landmarks. That was a formative time when I learned about the importance of understanding and managing environmental problems, both global and local. Moving to Tucson as a professor of these topics brought this experience full circle.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your family.
Between my wife and two boys we make a family of four. We have moved many times around the country; this is typical for academics. Our family has many adventures between California and Boston. The boys have essentially grown up in Tucson, though.
Q: Please tell us about your current, past, or future career. What do you love most about what you do?
An interesting thing about my job, and something that many people do not know about academia, is that one tends to have multiple identities. Academics often get involved in different scientific communities or teach courses in many different topics — not just the one thing that they research.
My original passion was mathematics, and in my current job I am essentially a mathematician that creates models that help us to understand complex social systems. I have a background also in East Asian studies, and I lived, worked, and studied in China. I have studied and taught at the University of California, Harvard University, Boston University, West Virginia University, among others.
Q: What are a couple of your favorite restaurants in our community?
We are fortunate to have great locally-owned restaurants. Among these, we like El Charro and Poca Cosa — two very different Mexican restaurants.
Q: How long have you lived or worked in our community?
Nearly ten years, and it feels like home.
Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in our community?
Not to evade the question, but I have to nominate the late Edward Abbey. I “met” him through reading his books about nature and environmentalism. He lived in Tucson and wrote about this wonderful place where we live. His writing is very inspirational for me.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
To the frozen North — Alaska or Canada. I always wanted to wander around in the wildness up there. I’ve always wanted to see bears in the wild. We travel a great deal but a trip like this has never been a top priority.
Q: What is one of your favorite movies? TV shows?
This is a hard question for movie and TV lovers. Over time, three favorites that I always come back to are: 1) I, Claudius (TV miniseries), 2) Dr. Strangelove, and 3) Rushmore.
Q: What advice would you give to people?
This depends on who is asking for advice! Let’s say that my children are looking for general life advice. One thing I tell them is to focus on what they want to achieve versus attaining some objective metric of success. In our popular culture there is a great deal of myth-making about how to measure success and potential for success — say, a person has three degrees or speaks five languages. The titles are not important by themselves, what is important is pursuing the thing that you really want to do.
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
I only purchased a bucket once when I remodeled a bathroom. A list never made sense because I never needed multiple buckets.
Q: What is your go to band when you can’t decide what to listen to?
Folk music that tells a story: Bob Dylan is wonderful and also makes me think of my mother.
Q: What current or former local business makes you the most nostalgic about our community?
Arizona Coins & Collectibles, run by Peter Spooner. There is something about the desert Southwest that brings memories of collecting coins as a child. In Peter’s store one is surrounded by fascinating and fun bits of history, plus he is a local expert on collectible Arizona tokens. He wrote the book on the subject.
Q: If you could choose anyone that is alive today and not a relative; with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? And where locally would y’all meet for this lunch?
I would have lunch with Shaun T. Blokker. I did not know of him until the middle of 2020, when I was determined to get back into physical shape after suffering from a neck injury. His workouts challenge the body and the mind in equal parts; I have so much respect for his approach to life and facing challenges.
Q: What is your favorite thing or something unique about our community?
Tucson is a place where you can move across boundaries — between nature and cities, and between North American, Latin American, and Native American cultures.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
Only two and a half years older.
Q: (Even for friends or family), what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I’ve always wanted to go dancing.
Q: What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
30 meters below Lake Champlain, scuba diving at night, floating weightless in the cold and cloudy water. So beautiful.
Q: Favorite month? favorite holiday? and best single day on the calendar?
My favorite month is certainly December because of all the holiday anticipation and preparation. My favorite holiday is probably Halloween, because I like the costumes and there is always the hope that there might be dancing.
Q: What would you rate a 10 out of 10?
My wife and life partner!
Q: Who inspires you to be better?
My wife and life partner, for sure. She has this incredible perspective and strength to thrive in this world, with all of its challenges and weirdness. I am so thankful that our boys have her as a role model.
Q: What is one or two of your favorite smells?
Trading cards when they are fresh out of the pack. It brings memories of searching for and collecting little treasures as a child.
Q: Finally, what 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Family, friends, and safety.
For All That You Do,
Thank you Adam Douglas Henry from The Faces of Tucson.
We Appreciate You