Matthew Chagnon

Excellence in Teaching

Associate Professor of Forestry Technology
Thompson School of Applied Science


Osmosis learning

 

Matthew Chagnon

On an overcast morning in late spring, with the sounds of Route 4 in the distance, Matt Chagnon opens the tailgate of his pickup truck to reveal the tools of his trade. A chain saw, can of gasoline, rope, harness, and hardhat are neatly organized in the bed of his truck.

As he prepares for the task ahead (felling a tired hemlock), he engages in a stream of conversation so easy and natural it's hard to recognize that he's relaying knowledge. In a matter of minutes he covers the basics on the biodiversity of the forest clearing, the chain saw engine (two-stroke), Kevlar (what his chaps are made of), and safety (he deducts five points from the quiz scores of students who lose their hardhat during a field quiz). It's easy to understand why this professor of forest technology at UNH's Thompson School of Applied Science has been recognized for "excellence in teaching" for the third time. This "osmosis learning" is pretty typical. According to former student and Thompson School graduate Steve Eisenhauer, "forestry is Matt's life; he loves teaching it."

Moments later and 20 feet up in an evergreen, Chagnon peers through his face shield and eases his saw into the tree. Through a snowfall of sawdust he carves a perfect mouth-shaped notch. A deeper cut comes next. Finally, a few swift rips of the handsaw and the tree falls. "That'll go off for some firewood," he says.

To listen to him speak is to be reminded of a day when thoughtful conversation and simple pleasures were a way of life. There's the smell of the pines. Lady slippers dot the edge of the clearing. It feels timeless. Then the whistle of the 10 o'clock Amtrak train pulling into Durham reminds us that it's the 21st century.

At UNH, Chagnon keeps a busy schedule. In addition to teaching classes, he serves on the University's land and property use committee, and is chair of the Woodlands and Natural Areas group. For about 20 years, he coached the UNH lumberjack team. Chagnon has been instrumental in the promotion of these competitions. As co-owner of Granite State Lumberjack Shows, Inc., he travels throughout the nation and abroad organizing the action at lumberjack competitions for the Stihl Timbersports series televised on ESPN.

As a professional forester, Chagnon volunteers on a number of industry committees, writes for trade publications, and participates in sundry trade organizations, pastimes that "keep him very busy and very sharp," says 25-year friend and colleague Don Quigley.

"Relax...? What's that?" Chagnon jokes. In his spare time, he gets things done on the homestead, tending his 25-acre tree farm, maintaining his 263-year old home, gardening, and nurturing his emerging apple orchard.

This total immersion in the greater forestry community is in keeping with the Thompson School tradition that faculty "work what they teach."

And the busy lifestyle doesn't seem to get Matt Chagnon down. Says Quigley, "It is an inspiration to all of us to see Matt in his full rain gear headed down the hall towards the woods, students in tow, whistling the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show at the top of his lungs. He whistles because he is happy to be headed out and he is confident in his preparation. And the students know that they are in for an adventure."

—Tracey Bentley