Prof hopes there’s room for ’shrooms at PSC

Thomas Huber, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, shows off a block of clamshell mushrooms that students at the college grew. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

PAUL SMITHS — A Paul Smith’s College professor is looking to grow the school’s curriculum by adding a fungal component to one of its majors in the hopes that the “College of the Adirondacks” will eventually become “My-college-y of the Adirondacks.”

Thomas Huber is currently pitching an “Applied Mycology Program” to the college, which would consist of eight classes. The program would not be a major but rather a career-oriented track in the Sustainability and Environmental Studies program.

Huber isn’t just pitching the benefits of a new minor at the college, though, even one that has potential applications in natural sciences, medicine and culinary arts. Huber says the program should also help bring PSC into the age of digital education.

“The real opportunity for the college (to grow enrollment-generated revenue) though will come if the new Applied Mycology Program (AMP) courses are accessible online,” he wrote in his pitch. “It is recommended that most of the courses be offered online, and designed for mobile phone access.

“It is also suggested that the format be eventually changed to open entry, open exit to allow for flexibility in accessing and completing the online courses keeping in mind the diversity of the ‘mushroom people’ as well as the guidelines for receiving financial aid.”

In addition to possibly offering an online option that Huber thinks would draw more students, locals or students enrolled at the college would participate in “hybrid sections where most of the content of the curriculum will be delivered online, but will also be supplemented with learning resources available at the … at the VIC and elsewhere on campus.”

Huber also sees the potential to grab some senior citizens as students with a reduced rate for non-credit courses. The college hosted the biennial ADK Fungi Fest in 2015 and 2017, and Huber said the largest portion of attendees were senior citizens.

“Let’s say you want to focus on forestry; if you want culinary arts; environmental studies; if you want to do micro-remediation,” Huber said. “When you talk about an academic mycologist, most of those people lead up graduate labs [and] there’s not a lot of employment there.

“So we want to focus on what I think is a broad surface area and the diverse nature of the field. And the entrepreneurs I think are going to drive a lot of this as well.”

Huber cited growth in various fields of mycology, such as medicinal and homeopathic areas, as well as remediation and construction and culinary applications. He said the various fields that have the best job potential all fit in with PSC’s traditional courses of study.

For several years Huber has also been running the school’s Mycology Club, which is based in a large room at the Visitor Interpretive Center. He said the new track will be an offshoot of what happens at the club level.

“‘How do you grow mushrooms low cost?’ Easy, you can do it anywhere,” he said, adding that advanced cultivation would be part of the program’s curriculum. “So certainly students at Paul Smith’s who have lab experiences, [and] a little bit of cultivation experience will be very much in demand.

“It’s not in the curriculum hardly anywhere: elementary, secondary, college level. The farming with fungi class is one I’m very excited about.”

The proposed curriculum includes three required classes. Students will then be able to choose three out of five higher-level classes to finish out the minor.

Starting out with the basics, students would take an introductory class that would include identification, taxonomy and ecology, as well as field trips around the Adirondacks and into the neighboring St. Lawrence or Champlain valleys. “Integrated Seminar” would help students determine their track of study within the program, and all students would also take “Introduction to the Art and Science of Mycology.”

“This course consists of two major parts,” Huber writes. “The first ‘science’ part will focus on basic terminology, taxonomy, species identification, reproduction and evolution, ecology and epigenetics, etc. The second part will focus on the artistic applications of the field — culinary, the art of cultivation, mushroom crafts, and related creative uses of fungi and mushrooms.”

The upper-level courses would include a study-abroad option as well as the chance to participate in an apprenticeship. Other classes revolve around students who wish to become teachers or work in the fields of medicine, restoration and food and agriculture.

“Mycorestoration involves the use of fungi to prevent, reduce, repair, restore and ameliorate the negative impacts of chemical and biological contaminants and other anthropomorphic disturbances in the environment,” the course description says. “This course will examine the role of mycoremediation, mycofiltration, and mycoforestry in supporting ecological restoration efforts.”

While some classes will begin this summer at the VIC, Huber hopes the college will approve the program and courses in the near future.