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Westbrook to retire; Bridgen will succeed

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WANAKENA — Longtime Ranger School Director Christopher L. Westbrook will retire June 30, and in keeping with tradition, will be succeeded by a professor at the school, Michael R. Bridgen.

“It will be different. Chris has done truly a phenomenal job and grown in that position. He will be missed,” said David H. Newman, chairman of the Department of Forest and Natural Resources at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, which oversees the Ranger School. “We don’t expect Mike to fill his shoes, particularly when it comes to economic development. Mike will make the job his own and it will be good. Mike is the right person for the job.”

Mr. Westbrook has been at the helm for nearly 18 years, the second-longest tenure of a director at the Ranger School, and has guided the institution to two new programs, a $6 million capital project, a faculty expansion — including more Ph.D.s and women represented — and a boost in endowment. He is the recipient of a 1996 Chancellor Award for Excellence in Teaching and a 2004 Chancellor Award for Excellence in Faculty Service.

He has been active in Adirondack issues with Clifton-Fine Hospital and is president of the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp.

“I look at a lot of accomplishments. It’s time for someone new,” Mr. Westbrook said. “We’re absolutely sticking around. We love the people and the area.”

Mr. Bridgen, who joined the faculty in 1991, said he will continue the school’s role of training professionals for careers in environmental fields.

“The Ranger School has a well-established reputation in the industry. I want to do what I can to prepare the school for the next generation,” he said. “We’re going to continue with developing challenging programs in response to the demands of the marketplace. That helps to keep the program fresh. The environmental world is constantly changing.”

Mr. Westbrook is a beneficiary of the Ranger School program. He graduated in 1973 and continued his studies in forest management at the University of Montana. He worked as a technician at the Ranger School from 1982 to 1988 before earning his master’s degree in education at West Virginia University and teaching for six years at Glenville State College.

A licensed surveyor, he returned to the Ranger School to help develop a program in land surveying. Other programs include forest technology and environmental and natural resource conservation.

In retirement, Mr. Westbrook will focus on Adk compliance, a consulting business he started with his wife, Susan N. — a fellow Ranger School graduate — and his brother, Timothy J.

Mr. Bridgen is a popular professor who has been a Ranger School staff member almost as long as Mr. Westbrook, Mr. Newman said.

The administration canvassed the faculty members on how they wanted the position filled. They favored an in-house selection.

“I was fortunate they all wanted me,” Mr. Bridgen said. “It’s a long-standing practice of promoting from within.”

Mr. Bridgen said he did not expect to be director as long as Mr. Westbrook.

“His leadership has been exceptional. We haven’t had anyone stay that long for a while,” Mr. Bridgen said. “My vision for myself is 2020. A lot of things can happen.”

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Bridgen earned a Ph.D. in tree physiology and genetics from Michigan State University in 1979.

He worked for Westvaco Corp. in West Virginia for 12 years before moving to the Ranger School. His wife, Rita J., works at the SUNY Potsdam library.

As director, Mr. Bridgen will continue to teach dendrology, which is tree identification, and siviculture, the care and cultivation of forest trees.

“Working with young people is a wonderful opportunity,” Mr. Bridgen said. “I have a lot of respect for our graduates. They walk out of here with a lot of skills.”

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