Hero of the week: science with the Seidels

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

This heroic duo is seemingly synonymous with Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society, spearheading many of the major programs run by the signature center.

Dr. John Seidel is the director of CES, as well as a professor of anthropology at the College. His wife, Liz Seidel, is the director of the Public Archaeology Lab, a program run by CES.

Founded in 1999 to “promote interdisciplinary study, research, and exemplary stewardship of natural and cultural resources,” CES is now celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a series of public talks and activities. The series will culminate with The CES’tival: an outdoor concert and food festival held at the Chester River waterfront on April 25.

CES has many accomplishments to celebrate, thanks to the work of the Seidels.

In October 2019, Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall opened, expanding the College’s waterfront campus. The facility is the new office space for CES and houses a number of their programs, including the Chesapeake Semester and Chester River Watershed Observatory.

Dr. Seidel pitched the idea for the building over a decade ago with the goal of creating a hub for environmental studies of all kinds centered around the immediately accessible Chester River. The building was designed to echo the program’s “commitment to sustainability and local ecology,” pursuing the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification to become net-positive for energy production.

Dr. Seidel’s students, especially those participating in the Chesapeake Semester, are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn in the waterfront classroom at SG Hall; however, they are more likely to be found blacksmithing in Colonial Williamsburg or scaling Mayan temples in Tikal.

Because of his extensive work in the archaeological community, Dr. Seidel has an abundance of “connections far and wide, which he uses to provide unparalleled learning opportunities for his students.

“That said, while I’m really proud of my role in the development of CES, the Chesapeake Semester, and SG Hall, I’m just doing my job,” Dr. Seidel said. “Liz, on the other hand, goes above and beyond all the time, for very little recognition.”

Former Historic Sites Coordinator for Queen Anne’s County Liz Seidel left her position in 1999 to develop WC’s Public Archaeology Lab. In the same year, she played a key role in starting the anthropology department’s Summer Field School in Archaeology.

In her position at the Archaeology Lab, Liz has mentored hundreds of students both through their time in college and in the years following.

“At first, her position was 100% grant funded, and when [the program] periodically ran out of grant funding, she continued to work with students pro bono,” Dr. Seidel said, “Although the College classifies her as ‘part-time,’ she’s one of those very rare people who gives 110% and doesn’t worry about getting credit or pay for every hour she works.”

At a time when WC is celebrating resilience, there is no pair more deserving of recognition than the tireless, dedicated leaders of environmental stewardship and anthropologic study.

To learn more about the Seidels’ work, visit the Public Archaeology Lab during their open house on Jan. 29, or check out one of the many public programs presented by CES throughout the semester.

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