Erica Smithwick, Distinguished Professor of Geography, is a landscape and ecosystem ecologist. She is an Associate Director of the Institutes of Energy and Environment (IEE), and former director (2017–2021) of the Ecology Institute, both of which foster interdisciplinary environmental research.
She was also the founding director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics, which connects science to management. She is a Faculty Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Penn State, and Graduate Faculty in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Her laboratory group (LEAPS: Landscape Ecology at Penn State) is actively involved in understanding how a wide range of disturbances, especially fire, affect ecosystem function at landscape scales. Current research is focused on the influence of these changes on socio-ecological resilience and sustainability, with special attention to protected area management in Africa and the U.S.
She recently served as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa at Rhodes University. Dr. Smithwick has received numerous research awards from the NSF, NASA, DOE, NPS, the USGS, and beyond. This work is increasingly focused on problems that require inter- and trans-disciplinary teamwork to address complex environmental challenges. One of these projects, called Visualizing Forest Futures (VIFF), seeks to address how indigenous and western knowledge systems can be best used to address forest sustainability under climate variability, in partnership with the Menominee tribal nation in northern Wisconsin. Another, LandcapeU, is focused on transdisciplinary graduate training at the Food-Energy-Water nexus.