Published: May 26, 2021

Editor’s note: Get to Know is a series highlighting community through the unique perspectives, interests and involvements of our faculty and staff members at CU Boulder. 

Peter Newton

Peter Newton

 Get to know Peter Newton, assistant professor in environmental studies

Without saying your title, describe who you serve on campus and what you do.

I conduct research on socio-environmental systems—trying to understand the ways in which humans use and affect the natural environment and explore ways in which we can do so more sustainably. My research covers a range of topics, from forest conservation and sustainable development in Brazil to agriculture and food systems in the U.S. I also teach undergraduate and graduate classes on food systems and the environment. And I coordinate our department’s honors program.

Beyond your unit, what is a campus group or effort you are involved in or want to highlight?

I am a faculty advisor to the Boulder Alt Protein Project. However, this recently-formed student group barely needs my advice: they are knowledgeable, motivated and organized. They are doing amazing things to advance research, education and student engagement in the field of alternative proteins (e.g., plant-based and cultivated meat). Given the enormous toll that conventional animal agriculture has on the environment, it is great to see a passionate cohort of students collaborating on this topic. The Boulder Alt Protein Project represents a great opportunity for other students on campus to join an effort to create a more sustainable food system.

What are you most proud of professionally or personally?

I am proud of the students I work with. It’s been such a tough year in so many ways. Yet the students have made it work. For example, I work with two fantastic graduate students who moved to Boulder and began a new doctoral program in the midst of the pandemic. They barely met me or their peers for their entire first year of school. Yet they are thriving: writing papers, securing grants and teaching online.

A second example is the honors students I work with: an honors thesis is a big undertaking in any student’s senior year, but to do it without being able to get into the field to collect data, and with all the added stresses of 2020–21, was hard. But they innovated around the challenges and wrote exceptional theses. I’m proud of them all.

What are your favorite spots or moments on campus?

I love the Norlin Quad and the older buildings that surround it. It is somewhat reminiscent of the quads at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom where I got my undergraduate degree, so I think there’s an element of nostalgia whenever I pass through there.

What is your current office like?

My usual office is in the Sustainability, Energy & Environment Community (SEEC) building on East Campus. It has huge windows facing the mountains and is a great spot to work from. That said, I haven’t been in that office since early March 2020, for obvious reasons.

For the last year, my office has been the spare bedroom of our home in south Boulder. That office has its own perks: our two golden retrievers hang out on the bed next to me as I work at my desk, and I can pop out of the door for a trail run up Bear Canyon in between Zoom calls. But I miss bumping into students and colleagues in the hallways of SEEC, and I will be grateful when our community can share space again.

What is the best-kept secret on campus?

This may not be a secret per se, but as a professor who teaches about food systems, I would like to highlight just how great the CU Dining Services are. For example, the diversity of food on offer in the Center for Community dining center is phenomenal! Without wanting to sound old and curmudgeonly, it makes the catering options I endured as a student pale in comparison. And the commitment of the Dining Services staff to exploring more sustainable ways of sourcing food and feeding the campus is commendable.