A new scholarship has been established at Catawba College in honor of Dr. Michael Baranski and in recognition of his many contributions to the institution. Baranski, a professor of biology, joined the Catawba faculty in 1974 and has spent his career promoting environmental preservation and awareness among his students and the public at large. The Michael J. Baranski Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to a student majoring in environmental science until that student graduates.
"This scholarship is a very tangible way for the institution to honor Dr. Baranski for his many contributions," said Tom Childress, Catawba senior vice president. "His impact in our community has been profound. Much that we value as an institution and as a community, especially our ecological preserve and our heightened environmental awareness, is a direct result of Dr. Baranski's foresight and willingness to take the environmental lead long before that was the acknowledged ‘right thing' to do."
Born in Wheeling, W. Va., Baranski received his bachelor of science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from West Liberty State College and his doctorate in ecology and botany from N.C. State University. He is a professional taxonomist and ecologist specializing in woody plants and natural areas who has written frequently for professional and technical publications and has worked on many environmental issues and projects utilizing his expertise.
He has served for over two decades on the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Advisory Committee, having been appointed with that committee's inception in 1986. He developed the recommendations for nature preserves on the 18,000-acre Rollins Tract in the South Mountains of the western Piedmont for the Wildlife Commission and the N.C. Natural Heritage Program.
He has conducted natural areas inventories for the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Trust for N.C., the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, the Rowan County Parks and Recreation Commission, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His two-year study of the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir Project in Wilkes County inventoried federal and state-listed endangered and threatened species of plants and animals and enabled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct and plan natural resource and management activities on the project lands. His natural areas inventory for Rowan County was among the first countywide inventories performed in N.C. He performed the environmental and natural resources assessment for the Eagle Point Nature Preserve Park in Rowan County.
Baranski has performed environmental and natural resources assessments in all parts of the state, specializing in wetlands, rare species, and biotic surveys. Much of his work in recent years has been for N.C. Department of Transportation projects. For a two-year period, he was the primary consulting reviewer for most NCDOT environmental documents.
Baranski is past president of the Association of Southeastern Biologists (ASB), past president of the North Carolina Academy of Science (NCAS), and past president of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. He served as program chair of the Andre Michaux International Symposium held in 2002 at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of 18th century French explorer, collector and botanist Andre Michaux. He was the editor of a 237- page Proceedings publication that resulted from that symposium. He has served as Editor of three scientific journals: Castanea, the Journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society; the Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science; and Occasional Papers in Eastern Botany.
Baranski has served as trustee of the Highlands Botanical Foundation, Inc., as a member of the N.C. Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources' Natural Heritage Advisory Committee, on the Governor's Advisory Committee on the Crystalline Rock Nuclear Repository, on the working group to develop the Shoreline Management Plan for Alcoa reservoirs, and on many other commissions and panels.
In 2002, he was selected to participate in the Chautauqua Short Course Program for College Teachers entitled "Tools for Teaching about the Environment and Conservation Biology." He teaches a course in field biology and ecology in the Summer Ventures Program for the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics at UNC-Charlotte, and he has held adjunct and visiting teaching appointments at the Highlands Biological Station, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, N.C. State University, and in the Duke University Graduate School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In 2004, he was named Teacher of the Year at Catawba College. Dr. Baranski's teaching specialties include conservation biology, resource management, vegetation ecology, field botany, and plant systematics.
Baranski's publications range from technical botanical and ecological subjects to general articles on plants and environmental topics for the public at large. Through the years, he has authored many entries on woody plants for inclusion in The World Book Encyclopedia. With his students at Catawba College, he has conducted numerous research projects and presented papers on many subjects. Ten of his students have won awards for research papers given at N.C. Academy of Science annual meetings.
He has been an advocate for and activist in many environmental causes and issues, both locally and regionally, including the hazardous waste treatment facility and the low-level radioactive waste sites that were proposed for Rowan County. He served as the first chair of the Hurley Park Advisory Committee for the City of Salisbury. He recently served on the Land Use Plan Advisory Committee for the Rowan County Commission. Baranski actively assists the LandTrust for Central N.C. on its projects. He has been a frequent participant and speaker on environmental issues in the Salisbury-Rowan community.
He was recognized by Catawba in 2002 when the lake located in the college's 189-acre Ecological Preserve was named Lake Baranski in his honor. It was largely thanks to Baranski's efforts that Catawba's Ecological Preserve was designated as part of North Carolina's Registry of Natural Heritage Areas in the late 1980s.
In August of this year at the college's opening convocation ceremony, it was announced that Baranski was the recipient of the Bashore Distinguished Professorship in Environmental Science. This endowed professorship is awarded for a two-year period to a faculty member in environmental science who is a high achiever as a scholar and teacher with outstanding qualifications and enthusiasm for his work and the students who are entrusted to him.
Baranski is married to wife Julia and they are parents of two adult children.