Our Blog

June 5th, 2013

Meet Preston Cumming

Preston Cumming, graduated from Montreat in 2000 with a Double Major in Outdoor Education and Environmental Science. He now lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Helen and son Ronin. The Cumming family is waiting expectantly for a new addition to their family. 

After developing an interest in geography in high school, Preston furthered his knowledge on the subject by taking physical geography with Dr. Brad Daniel at Montreat, and ultimately declaring, “This is what I want to do forever”.  Since attending graduate school in Missoula Montana, Cumming has been working to finish up his PhD work in Geography, specifically in the fields of spatio-temporal soil and vegetation variability in the face of climate change. After graduation, Preston and his family plan to set out to Vancouver, BC, Canada where he will pursue a two year post-doctorate research position to gain even more experience as a scholar and educator.

What do you value most about your education from Montreat? Are there any specific lessons learned that you have carried with you to this day?

Well, first of all I have to say that my experience at Montreat is the reason I am where I am today. I first went to Montreat 94-95 and wasn’t sure it was for me (too small), but when I was gone for the next few years I realized that I was being drawn back there. I missed it really.

The size of classes and my opportunity to interact with faculty and fellow students in a way that you can’t get anywhere else. Montreat made me feel like I mattered. I loved the compassion, faith, and desire of the faculty in helping us all succeed in whatever it is that we do. The small classes and my increased realization that I could help my fellow students with their problems as much as they could help me made me want to become an educator. I have had the opportunity now to teach at the high school and college levels and continue to utilize that principle in class– I try and be not only the instructor, but also a mentor and friend to many of my students.

What sparked your desire to continue your education in Geography?

I took Geography in high school and really enjoyed it, but when I returned to Montreat in 1998 and was able to take Physical Geography with Brad Daniel it was an eye opener. THIS is what I wanted to do forever. The opportunity to be a double major in OE and ES gave me a great background in becoming university faculty.

In what ways, specifically, do you foresee being able to give back to your community?

I am defending my dissertation and graduating next month. My family and I will then set out on a two year post-doctorate research position in Vancouver, BC, Canada so I can get even more experience as a scholar and educator. We will then be looking for a tenure track faculty position somewhere that has just as much education as a goal as research. Schools such as Montreat are special places, therefore there are not that many of them, but we hope to find a place that gives me the opportunity to give back to students as much as I received while I was in school. During my post-doc, I will also be learning more about climate education and how we, as researchers, can effectively communicate what we do. This is from where my greatest service to the community will come. 

Are there any special outdoor activities that you participate in as a family?

My wife and I have had the opportunity to live in some of the greatest places in the world (North Carolina, Montana, Japan, Colorado, and now BC, Canada). We love being outdoors and these places have afforded us the opportunity to snowboard at some of the best resorts, raft some of the best rivers, fish the best streams, bike the best singletracks, and camp in the best that God has to offer. We are excited to continue all of these activities with our son (Ronin) and our next child (due in July).

What do you enjoy the most, or find the most rewarding about the areas of study you partake in?

I am a Physical Geographer studying soil, climate, and vegetation dynamics in semi-arid ecosystems. The greatest thing about this is that I get to be outside all the time in awesome locations. I consistently utilize everything I learned in both OE and ES while conducting field work, in the lab, and in the classroom. At most universities the expectation is that research comes first with teaching and service secondary. I have made it my goal to bring my research into the classroom and to continue to help my fellow graduate students (and fellow faculty in the near future) become better teachers and improve all of our outreach to the university and greater community.