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Inspiration and Magic

Author T.A. Barron prepares humanities students to protect the planet

Growing up in Colorado ranch country, T.A. Barron dreamed of becoming a writer, outdoorsman and conservationist. Two decades and more than 30 books later, he has achieved all three and then some.

He gives much of the credit to nature, which he has described as his “ultimate source of balance, inspiration and magic.” In fact, nature plays a starring role in most of Barron’s novels, from New York Times bestseller “The Great Tree of Avalon” to the entire series “The Merlin Saga,” now being made into a feature film by Disney.

“Nature has always been my greatest inspiration,” Barron reiterated in a recent interview, “and, I would add, also my friend, my healer and my teacher.” 

No wonder, then, that he is so driven to protect it. 

A lifelong environmentalist, increasingly as prolific in his conservation philanthropy as he is in his writing, Barron has donated to UC Santa Barbara to create the T.A. Barron Endowed Environmental Leadership Fund. The fund is meant to expressly support and advance environmental advocacy by undergraduates in the humanities. 

“If we are going to save this precious planet of ours — the only place we know in the entire universe that has life — we have to think about ways that involve philosophy and history and literature, and connect with people on those levels of fundamental ideas,” Barron said of the motivation for his gift, his first to UC Santa Barbara. “That’s why the humanities are so important.”

 “UC Santa Barbara is a laboratory for the very best ways to communicate the important ethical, historical, cultural and literary ideas about protecting our environment,” added Barron, who helped to create the Princeton Environmental Institute at Princeton University. 

With more than 70 faculty members who teach courses that address issues in the environmental humanities, UCSB already is an international leader in the field, a growing focus in undergraduate curriculum. The campus has a range of existing related programming, from the English department’s Literature and the Environment Center, to the Environmental/ Climate Justice Hub based at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, to the Blue Horizons and GreenScreen programs in environmental media production. 

This new initiative raises the bar another notch (or three), in part with its focus on undergraduates. The Barron Fund will help provide first- and second-year students with ways to explore environmental advocacy through the lens of liberal arts education. 

With the fund, UC Santa Barbara aims to provide outstanding students with opportunities to combine academic training, team-based learning and practical experience to help make a difference in the world by becoming effective and persuasive advocates for the environment. Research, mentoring and student scholarships in environmental humanities are among the possibilities on the table, along with curricular innovations and community-building activities. 

“What we are doing at UCSB is planting seeds,” said Barron. “I can’t tell you how those seeds are going to grow or what they might produce, but I have a feeling those seeds will take root and help these young people become the leaders who will ask really thoughtful questions and guide us through all these tough challenges.”