“Founder of environmental education,” has died

May 31, 2001

ANN ARBOR—William B. Stapp, professor emeritus of resource planning and conservation in the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), died May 21. Considered the founder of environmental education, Stapp spent his career searching for the root causes of environmental issues and helping students and adults find solutions to problems affecting their communities.

“Bill Stapp was one of those rare individuals whose influence spanned generations and continents,” said Barry Rabe, SNRE interim dean. “He was truly a pioneering figure in the field of environmental education, and his impact is evident in virtually every corner of the world. He leaves beyond an extraordinary legacy, including a loyal team of former students and collaborators who continue to define this vital area.”

Stapp’s special interest was international environmental education, and he was the first chief of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Environmental Education Section. His environmental education program was the first to be unanimously accepted by all 135 UNESCO member nations. During and subsequent to his two-year tenure in Paris, France, Stapp and his wife, Gloria, visited and consulted with representatives of more than 120 countries on environmental education issues. In many countries, he worked with students and adults at the community level to find solutions to water quality problems and other environmental issues.

Concerned about world peace, he founded the Global Rivers Environmental Education Program (GREEN) in 1989. Most recently, he worked on a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-sponsored GREEN rivers project between North and South Korea.

In addition to his worldwide influence upon environmental concerns, “Bill Stapp, the personable, soft-spoken, constant educator made an enormous impact upon hundreds of Ann Arbor kids, my three among them, and upon thousands of adults throughout Michigan,” said friend and colleague Alfred W. Storey, associate professor emeritus of speech.

“When Bill was with the Ann Arbor Public Schools in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Storey said, “he conducted numerous field trips with elementary school children—teaching them about nature, the environment, and how to get along with each other and the environment.

“During the late ’60s through the ’80s, Bill gave unstintingly of his time to participate, under the auspices of the University Extension Service, in off-campus lectures, conferences and correspondence courses,” added Storey, who also is director emeritus of the University Extension Service. “In this way, in addition to his on-campus teaching and research, he helped educate citizens of the state with regard to environmental concerns of the future.”

For many years, Stapp cooperated with public school systems in launching environmental monitoring programs in communities throughout the United States, especially in Michigan. He initiated the successful Rouge River recovery project, which involved students from 40 Detroit-area school systems 1987-89

He was recognized with numerous national and international awards and nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1993. At the U-M, he was named to a Thurnau Professorship, which recognizes and rewards faculty for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.

Stapp is survived by his wife of 48 years, Gloria; sons David and Richard; daughter Deborah; daughters-in-law Lauren Stapp and Linda Goldman; son-in-law Terry Webster; and three grandchildren. Donations in his memory may be made to an environmental organization.