A yellow bike sits outside Shearer Hall. Day by day, Claire Jantz commutes to Shippensburg University where she has worked in the Department of Geography and Earth Science since 2005. Her canary cruiser is how students and faculty alike know she is around campus.
However, after 19 years at SU, this bicycle may not be around as often as Jantz starts the next chapter of her life as the newest Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“It’s super hard to be leaving Shippensburg University, where for the past 18-plus years they’ve fostered my growth and allowed me to pursue all kinds of harebrained ideas, but I’m excited for the next chapter,” Jantz said.
When Jantz first stepped foot in Shippensburg, for her interview after finishing her dissertation at the University of Maryland, it was a foggy day. “We were walking by buildings, and I couldn’t even see them,” she said. She said she could not even see any of the landscape, because the fog was so heavy, which is funny for a geography person. However, by the end of the interview, she really wanted the job.
It was almost as if the job had been created for her. The university wanted someone who can do land use, someone who does geographic information systems, someone who teaches classes like urban geography and someone who could get engaged with Shippensburg’s Center for Land Use and Sustainability (CLUS). That someone was Jantz.
Coming from a background of large universities like the University of Tennessee where she completed her undergraduate degree and the University of Maryland where she completed her doctorate degree, Jantz was astonished by Shippensburg’s commitment to its students.
“I always felt like we were just kind of like slipping through the cracks, like, it’s hard to get to know a particular professor or feel like you’re part of a department because there’s just so much other stuff going on,” Jantz explained of her own education. “And here, it is really clear that the faculty are super committed to the students.”
SU’s Geography and Earth Science Department likes to foster a strong student culture through social activities and field trips with its students. This culture continues after graduation. Jantz has had students stay friends after they leave Shippensburg and even get married. When the announcement about her new career was released, Jantz received many emails from alumni working at DCNR congratulating her.
In her time at Shippensburg University, Jantz started out teaching World Geography but has moved into teaching Introduction to Environmental Sustainability, Land Use, Urban Geography and Biogeography. For graduate-level students, she teaches a class in land use science, which is what her background is in.
“We’re looking at regional scale issues and trying to understand the environmental, social, political, economic drivers of land use dynamics,” Jantz said. “So, if you’re looking at urbanization, like why are people building where they’re building? Why are the rates as fast or as slow as they are? Those kinds of questions.”
In 2015, Jantz became the director of the Center of Land Use and Sustainability at Shippensburg University, which has worked on different projects such as sustainability and economic impacts of trails, housing affordability and housing quality issues. In her time with the CLUS, she has gotten to collaborate more with agencies like DCNR.
“I just got a much broader view of using the lens of sustainability to look at a lot of different issues and what we call applied science, which is kind of doing science to help decisionmakers make better decisions,” Jantz said.
For Jantz, her top accomplishment while at SU has been revitalizing the CLUS. The Center has really helped get university students out into the community and raise visibility for SU. Every single CLUS project has students working on it. Students get to apply the skill sets they learn in the classroom. CLUS Fellows have gone on to work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Franklin County Conservation District, for example.
“It’s been great to, you know, hear from our CLUS alumni, to know that their experience at the CLUS helped them get their first job out of college and has helped them to progress through their career. So that’s all super rewarding,” Jantz said. “I know the work that we do here at Shippensburg has an impact because I know we’re educating the next generation of students.”
As for the future of the Center, Russell Hedberg will be the new director. Hedberg is associate professor of geography at Shippensburg University. Jantz is confident that Hedberg and the CLUS will strive after she is gone.
“I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be like, but I know it’s going to be really great,” Jantz said.
For individuals concerned about not being able to see the famed yellow bike around Shearer Hall, do not fear just yet. Jantz will be transitioning to DCNR after commencement later this month, but that does not mean she will leave Shippensburg University forever.
Jantz’s yellow bike may still be seen on campus on a regular basis as she still comes to Shearer Hall for lunch with acquaintances. Additionally, she will continue to help a graduate student with his thesis by staying on his committee until he graduates. She has also been approved by the department to be an adjunct professor.
“I hope that I get called if and when teaching opportunities come up because, I mean, I still live in Shippensburg, and I’m going to continue to live in Shippensburg, and I love to teach. And so, if that opportunity is there, I definitely want to come back and teach,” Jantz said.
This immense love for teaching is also why it is difficult for Jantz to leave Shippensburg University. “I love everybody that I work with, and I love all of our students, and I get a lot out of teaching still,” Jantz said.
The thought about working at DCNR had always been at the back of Jantz’s mind, especially with all the collaborations between DCNR and CLUS. For Jantz, DCNR has an important mission that also aligns with her own values. She always imagined working for DCNR after she retired, like a second career.
When the opening for Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services came up at DCNR, Cindy Adams Dunn reached out to Jantz. Dunn is the Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources of DCNR and oversees the entire department.
Dunn is also a Shippensburg alumna, having earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from SU. Additionally, Dunn serves on the advisory council for CLUS. Jantz did not know if she could pass up this opportunity to work at an agency that she really admires and have a job where she knows the work has a direct impact.
At DCNR, Jantz will be working across the whole state. The main priorities of DCNR right now are climate change mitigation and adaptation; diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; and developing the outdoor recreation economy. These three things are important to Jantz, so she could not pass up the opportunity.
In her new position, Jantz is excited to oversee the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation as well as the geologic survey. She will be in charge of giving out grants, rather than on the side of competing for money, which “will be a nice change,” Jantz said. The grants will support things like new land acquisition and trail development planning. Jantz looks forward to engaging with traditionally underserved communities. For example, rural communities and some urban communities tend to not have resources they need to pursue grants, so they are often excluded.
“We are delighted to have Dr. Claire Jantz join our leadership team at DCNR,” Dunn said of Jantz’s new career. Jantz will oversee the Community Conservation Partnerships Program and recreation and conservation communities across the Commonwealth.
“Claire’s deep knowledge, commitment and experience in both science and human dimensions will be of great service to our agency’s mission to preserve, conserve and sustain Pennsylvania’s natural resources for present and future generations’ use and enjoyment,” Dunn continued. “I am excited to welcome Claire and thank Shippensburg University for graciously working with us to bring her aboard.”
Jantz’s love for the outdoors goes beyond her education and lifework. She spends her free time outdoors as well. She likes to run, walk, hike and ride her yellow cruiser bike that so many people know her for. She runs errands around town or cruises down the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail on it.
Like most DCNR employees, Jantz takes pleasure in the Commonwealth’s vast state park system. One of the first state parks she visited when she moved here was Trough Creek State Park in Huntingdon County, which features a waterfall, suspension bridge and an amazing geologic feat called Balanced Rock. Her favorite state park, however, is Ricketts Glen, widely accepted as one of the most scenic areas in Pennsylvania with its 22 named waterfalls.
Locally, Pine Grove Furnace State Park holds a tender spot in Jantz’s heart. Firstly, the Appalachian Trail runs through it, so it has an interesting history. Secondly, Pine Grove Furnace hosts Fall Furnace Fest every October. Jantz has been able to be the Pumpkin Queen at this autumnal celebration for the past four years, leading the parade of children and their carved pumpkins. The pumpkins are then all lined up and lit before being sent out on a big raft on Laurel Lake.
While her time at Shippensburg University is coming to an end, Jantz has one message for students. “Try for opportunities and say yes to opportunities when they come up.” Even if you do not feel qualified, Jantz says you probably are, so “just put your hat in the ring, because that will help you to keep moving forward.”
That is what she has done as she transitions to DCNR this winter. The Slate wishes Claire Jantz all the best in her new job and cannot wait to see where she and her yellow bike goes from here.