Initial Publication Date: February 23, 2007

Karl the Tree Hugger

Eric Pyle and Dexter Perkins
Karl has been assigned to you as an advisee, and you have never met him and have no information on him other than what the registrar shares. He is obviously smart (he received a "5" on the AP Environmental Science exam). He has made an appointment with you to discuss a program of study.

Karl comes into the office for advising. He wants a degree in something to do with the environment, but is not sure what exactly. After conversation, it is clear that Karl is an unrepentant idealistic tree hugger. He is anti-corporate—all those that rape the Earth are evil, hunters are immoral. He holds unrealistic views—everyone must walk and not drive in order to stop global warming. Karl has no basis for what he is saying. Some of what he believes is founded on misconceptions and he has not considered alternatives to the issues or standpoints he holds.

You work out a program of study, which in the first semester includes introductory biology, introductory geology, statistics, and composition. He comes back at the end of the semester, somewhat angry that what he learned in these classes would not save the world or help the environment. He goes on to state that the environment was barely mentioned in any of these courses and wanted to know why you should pick such courses and hoped that you would give better advice for the next semester.

  1. What kind of advice would you give him? How would this affect his attitudes towards the environment and those he regards as enemies of the environment.
  2. Karl has threatened to drop out of school. Should you try to dissuade him, and how might you do this?


LeeAnn Srogi, Ann Bykerk-Kauffman, and Todd Zakrajsek
Does Karl really want advice? Perhaps what we should do before offering advice is to let him vent his frustrations, and help him probe the foundations of his feelings. And we can offer validation that his courses don't appear to connect directly to his concerns/goals. And we can encourage his enthusiasm because we need people who care passionately about the world.

We can ask questions to help him gauge the extent of his dissatisfaction with his college experience. Did he find anything of value in his courses? Did he see connections between the coursework and his passion for the environment—even if his professors did not make the connections explicit? This may help him work through his anger enough to think more clearly about options.

For example, perhaps he can find situations or organizations that more closely approximate what he's looking for. Perhaps he really wants to stay in college but he needs to join or start campus organizations, or local organizations that focus on the environment. Or perhaps his need for activism is so affectively charged that he should seek outside of college, such as Americorps. These experiences may expand his perspectives and give him opportunities to work with people who are also committed but different from him. He may find some models or mentors that will help him see the need for a valid knowledge base. Taking a break from college and pursuing his passion full-time may not be a bad thing.

Karl the Tree Hugger  

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