Green Gator of the Month: Stephen Mulkey

February 2023

Written by Sustainable UF intern Aleisha Palmer

Each month, the Office of Sustainability will feature members of the University of Florida community that are making a sustainable impact on a daily basis. Keep reading to meet our featured faculty Green Gator for February!

Meet Dr. Stephen Mulkey

This month’s Green Gator is a longstanding member of the UF community, Dr. Stephen Mulkey.

Dr. Mulkey got his B.S. in Forest, Fisheries, and Wildlife at the University of Missouri. He received his Ph.D. in Tropical Forest Ecosystems at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This was just the beginning of his complex career path in sustainability! 

Dr. Stephen Mulkey, professor at UF, on a mountain.

Sustaining The Highs and Lows

Dr. Mulkey’s first job after college was working at the University of St. Louis Missouri. There he had an immediate impact by starting the International Center for Tropical Ecology, which is now known as the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center.

While in this role, he also worked in Central America and Brazil researching tropical forest carbon balance. When he was ready for a change, he accepted a position at UF. Upon his arrival, however, Mulkey realized that his research was “selfishly oriented” and not entirely useful in the big picture of addressing sustainability or the climate crisis. 

With that new epiphany, he eventually moved over to the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) in IFAS from Botany, his tenure home. He became the co-director of SNRE alongside Stephen Humphrey. 

In 2007, the state of Florida bought Mulkey’s contract for a year and he served as the Science Advisor to the governor at the time, Charlie Crist. The political environment opened his eyes to the challenges that come with working directly for the state. It became clear to Mulkey that the state legislature did not consider climate change to be real – which limited Mulkey’s spirits. Once again, he was on the hunt for a position that would fit with his passions and allow him to maximize his contributions to climate change. 

He briefly returned to UF, followed by a stint at the University of Idaho. In both locations, politics and administrative priorities continued to prevent him from effectively addressing climate change through his work. 

Ultimately, Mulkey knew he needed to go elsewhere in order to make any form of progress. He was recruited by Unity College, a small, struggling college in Maine, and took the job as President with the faith that he could turn it around. He successfully put together a marketing and administrative team and renovated the college. After his success, he was ready for a change of pace.

So, he took a job with the National Science Foundation under the Trump Administration in 2017 where he worked on grants. He soon found out that he was not allowed to mention “climate change” in the grants or he would be terminated. Mulkey spent a year there before finally returning to Gainesville. 

In 2019, he noticed that no one was teaching “ceiling comprehensive climate change” courses to undergraduate students at UF. This realization would finally carve out Mulkey’s ideal career niche. 

Dr. Mulkey’s Pride and Joy

Dr. Stephen Mulkey has now created four courses at UF. Climate change is his primary focus in the classroom and it’s helping to impact many students’ lives. He also believes that teaching undergraduate students and preparing them to deal with climate issues is where he can have the greatest positive influence. 

In his career, Mulkey has often stepped on toes for bringing awareness to climate issues or been silenced for doing so (oftentimes both). Nevertheless, educating the younger generation is where his passion flows.  

Dr. Stephen Mulkey in the classroom at UF.

Submit your recommendation for a student, faculty, or staff member to be featured in a future Green Gator of the Month article! 

Published: February 16th, 2023

Category: Green Gator of the Month, Highlights