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5 Questions with Tom Coote '86

April 2022

Tom Coote '86Tom is Coordinator of Sustainability Programming and Visiting Faculty in Environmental Science at Simon’s Rock. He runs the Tropical Ecology and Sustainability program in Montserrat, and is the director of the Berkshire Environmental Research Center based on the Simon’s Rock campus. He, along with his wife, Annabelle, are alums from 1986 and have two children, Liam ’19 and Zoe ’20. They live in Great Barrington.

What does Simon’s Rock mean to you and your family?

My wife, Annabelle, and I met here as students. Our kids were raised “on campus,” and now they are also enjoying the magic of the college as students. It’s a great place to grow up and go to school, and I have personally really enjoyed continuing to learn from my mentors, Gabriel Asfar, Don Roeder and Bob Schmidt.

What is your hope for the students you teach?

At a minimum, to encourage them to be open to explore ideas, perspectives, and topics that they’d previously not considered. It’s rewarding when students say, “I never thought of that. That’s interesting.” But the most rewarding is watching a student take an idea and run with it, not just get the assignment done, but really dig deep and share their new knowledge with me; I often learn as much from these conversations as the student has learned doing the project.

What topic in sustainability are you most passionate about?

Food sovereignty. The extent to which governments and institutions can address this issue, not just locally but globally, is very instructive. Working with the college to make that happen here on campus is an example of the complexities involved, highlighting both the possibilities and the structural difficulties of achieving such change.

Where have you traveled that has made the most impact on you?

I went to China with Chris Coggins. We spent most of our time in agricultural communities in 1,000+ year old villages as part of his research on Fengshui forests. Seeing the abundance of the fields, the large amount of food produced with modest levels of technology and community labor was just stunning. And of course, Montserrat. It’s a small island with a complex problem of trying to develop sustainably after many years of major ecological and social disturbance. It’s why we go there.

Why do you give to Simon’s Rock?

I give because I know how it impacts overall philanthropy. I have a lot to be thankful for and participation is important.