This past August, after serving as interim head in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment since May of 2017, Jason Vokoun was appointed department head. He was also promoted to full professor and director of the interdisciplinary environmental sciences major.
“It has been an eventful year for me professionally,” Vokoun says. “I’m humbled to be able to tap into my passion to help people succeed. One of my favorite things about being a professor has always been to work with students and help them find a path to their career. That was always the thing that gave me the most joy. I find in being department head that I am able to do similar things, but now across broader networks of people. It has been the great surprise of this position and provides me a lot of personal satisfaction.”
Says Dean Cameron Faustman, “As both dean and an alumnus of the department, I am grateful to have Jason Vokoun leading the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. He has been a strong advocate for the student experience, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as for research and outreach. Dr. Vokoun’s thoughtful approach to various challenges and opportunities will serve the department well.”
Vokoun received his BS in forestry, fisheries and wildlife at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and MS and Ph.D. degrees in fisheries and wildlife from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He came to UConn as assistant professor in 2004.
His research interests focus on topics in fisheries, from statistical modeling of habitat, to fish movement and migration, conservation genetics, conservation of stream ecosystems and adaptive management.
Vokoun is enthusiastic when discussing the department. “I feel that I inherited the leadership of a department with a lot of momentum and many notable recent accomplishments,” he says. “I hope to help implement strategies that sustain these recent successes. The department has increased its research enterprise, has an increased number of graduate students, includes a faculty that are extremely successful at publishing manuscripts and have received more federal competitive grants in the department than in the past.”
Even with the department success, Vokoun remains vigilant. “Nobody can keep doing more and more forever,” he says. “Most successful organizations are very intentional about where they place efforts—we need to start thinking strategically.”
And while he believes that global environmental concerns provide the department with a built-in relevance, he is quick to point out that “sustaining natural resources and the environment that produces them is one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Vokoun strives to embrace and balance the land grant traditional mission areas of education, research and extension. “We can’t be an excellent department without being excellent at all three of these core missions. The challenge is finding our mix of collective strengths as a department and using them strategically to advance our impact on students, scientific understanding, and science communication and outreach.”
“My vision for the department is to continue and accelerate our momentum in a sustained way that allows us to rise in international presence. We must be thoughtful in sustaining those successes and productivity over the long haul to best inform society on how to conserve and manage the natural resources and ecosystem services that we desire and need from our environment every day, forever.”