Flaxen Conway is not just a faculty member at Oregon State University. She is a mentor to graduate students, an Extension specialist who shares science-based knowledge with communities across the state, a researcher who studies how people adapt to changes in natural resource management. She is also an alum and a passionate leader. During her 11-year stint as director of the Marine Resource Management program (MRM), she graced CEOAS with her wit, humor and intimate knowledge of coastal communities. Flaxen will retire at the end of June. In light of her departure, the editors at Strata spoke with Flaxen to learn about her long career and legacy at Oregon State.
- You are not only a faculty member at Oregon State, but an alum. Tell us about your academic background at OSU. What did you study?
My academic training is in the natural sciences, which I guess wasn’t meant to be as I ended up in the social sciences. But, yes, I am indeed a double OSU alumna (B.S. ’84 and M.S. ’87 in horticulture). Go Beavs!
- Today you have a three-pronged appointment at Oregon State—with the College of Liberal Arts; Oregon Sea Grant; and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. How do these appointments overlap or inform one another?
I’m a professor in the School of Public Policy where I’ve run a research program for over three decades investigating how individuals and communities adapt to changes in natural resource management. Since 1993, my focus has been on coastal communities. Over these years, I’ve worked with several graduate students on projects ranging from commercial and recreational uses of ocean space and place to women’s roles in their fishing family businesses. At the same time, I’ve been an Extension specialist with Oregon Sea Grant, working collaboratively with coastal community members. So, in 2011, I jumped at the opportunity to direct the MRM program and weave all three of my full-time jobs together.
- You entered a field different from your academic training and made a few pivots in your career. How have those pivots benefited you?
Complex, wicked problems require multiple perspectives, curiosity and creativity to find potential solutions. I’ve always been drawn to these kinds of problems, and to the multiple ways of knowing a place or issue. I think I’m inherently a co-learner and an interdisciplinary pracademic (someone who is both an academic and a practitioner in their subject area).
- Let’s talk specifically about the Marine Resource Management program. You’ve been the director of that graduate program for over 10 years, since 2011. What do you consider its greatest strengths?
Oh my goodness, there are so many! How much time do you have? But seriously, the MRM program has been doing interdisciplinary and professionally oriented science since before it was cool. Since 1974, the program has been informing and training marine resource professionals to think creatively and work cooperatively. Hands down, the students, faculty and core coursework are the program’s greatest strengths.
- You have frequently collaborated with Earth scientists, publishing on everything from conflict in the development of ocean energy to the vulnerabilities of fishing communities. What’s the benefit of bringing together the social and natural sciences within research and scholarship?
I believe that the only way to truly understand the complexity of the marine space and place is to look at it through the coupled human-natural system lens. A natural science colleague – someone like fisheries oceanographer Lorenzo Ciannelli – is brilliant and looks at the ocean through a very different lens than my social science colleagues – like Ana Spalding, who’s equally brilliant. Being in a room with the two of them plus some commercial fishermen and coastal managers is superbly interesting and invigorating. Working with Lorenzo and others on the NSF NRT program was one of the high points of my career.
- While we know you to be a very humble person, what do you hope your legacy will be with respect to the MRM program?
I’m not much of a legacy person…but maybe I’ve helped people to see the program as the flagship that it truly is, as CEOAS’ premiere interdisciplinary program.
- What’s next for you?
Rivers. Lots of rivers.
And, of course, I will continue to learn and grow as part of the coupled human-natural system. The day that I stop learning is the day that I die.