Associate Professor of Earth Science
‘The best way to achieve your dreams is to get started on them now’
Mike Loso understands APU students who find environmental science so engaging, it’s hard to choose just one focus only.
Starting with a love of being in the mountains, Mike’s curiosity led him to an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and a master’s degree in botany, only to find that geology was endlessly fascinating. And gave him lots of reasons to work outdoors.
A former forester, Mike is a board member and past president of The Wrangell Mountains Center, a McCarthy, Alaska-based nonprofit that promotes scientific and artistic inquiry in the Wrangells. He’s a banjo player who performs with an Anchorage band and isn’t shy about sharing banjo haiku, including this one, author unknown: Haiku is to poem/As banjo is to music/Any fool can try
Mike, what’s different about the way you teach in the Environmental Science Department at APU and the way you were taught?
I went to large state schools for all of my postsecondary education, and I learned a lot. But I didn’t do much. I certainly never sat down to talk with my professors and they never shared advice beyond how to succeed in their courses.
What I’ve learned along the way, and share with my students, is that the best way to achieve your dreams is to get started on them now.
In the ES Department, we send that message by getting out of the classroom and into structured projects in the real world. We might be in the field collecting data or working hands-on with local consulting firms, land management agencies or non-profits. ES students learn that experiences and connections they gain from getting to work early on – and not studying a problem from a distant perspective only – are key to success in our field.
How did you choose geology?
Everything I love about science stems from a love of being outdoors, especially in the mountains. Curiosity naturally followed. I began studying environmental science, switched to botany and finally discovered geology.
I love it all. But geology is diverse and spectacular and on display in Alaska like nowhere else in the world. It’s also endlessly fascinating, humbling and fun.
My work at APU allows me – encourages me, really – to keep getting out into the field as a teacher leading intensive courses, as a researcher, and as a family man on vacation. It’s that combination that keeps passion going.
Your funded research on a glacier that’s the source of Anchorage drinking water includes lots of ES students. In photos, they’re smiling and working hard.
This project really does embody some of the best aspects of APU’s project-learning approach.
Eklutna Glacier is about 30 miles northeast of Anchorage. The city relies on Eklutna for drinking water and power generation, and several years ago I started working with APU students to better understand how the glacier is changing along with our climate. That work has developed into an extended ES Department study that takes us to the glacier annually in May on a monthlong field expedition. Those are good times.
ES students have been at the front of all this research. Several senior projects and two completed master’s theses have focused on Eklutna. But the quality of student work is best expressed by the willingness of our major sponsor – the city’s own power utility – to continue to fund our project.
ES Department faculty stress the importance of training scientists to be engaged in the world. What does that mean to you, Mike?
The more I learn about the natural world, the more connected everything seems. I feel lucky to live and work in Alaska, a place where so many of those connections remain intact.
For our ES grads, I hope this awareness inspires curiosity, because everything they’ll go on to do in their lives and careers will stem from being excited and engaged in the world around them. That’s a hard thing to teach, but a reasonable thing to model, and that’s what I think our department does so well: Model the best practices of engagement with the world around us.
ES students see this at every level – from the way we teach our lab and field courses to the way we live our lives. And because APU is small and fosters close ties between faculty and students, the lives of the faculty are just as important as the classes we teach.
Associate Professor Mike Loso directs APU’s master’s program in environmental science. More at