It Takes Two (or More)

by Jack Barger ’01
photography by Amy DePuy

In an oft-repeated compliment directed toward University of Findlay, students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni alike say that being at UF is like being with family. 

While there are many reasons for this frequent sentiment, ranging from the helpful attitude of those on campus to the “small University with the big feeling” adage, among countless others, in some cases, that family feeling is a product of being around what is literally family. In the case of UF’s Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability (EHSS) Program, Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. and Kim Lichtveld, Ph.D., both assistant professors of EHSS, and UF’s own husband and wife dynamic duo, the word family means both a particular approach to life and a philosophy of kindness toward others. 

While being brought up in their respective households as kids, Ebersviller and Lichtveld say they had similar family dynamics leading to the significant personality traits they share today. “A very open household, welcome to anybody,” Ebersviller said. “All of my and my brothers’ friends called my parents Mom and Dad. They’d even come over when I wasn’t there to talk to my mom about problems.”

“It was the same for me,” Lichtveld explained. “My parents were always willing to have friends of mine and my siblings over as much as it was needed. I saw it growing up so much. They had a soft heart for helping.”

With a newborn baby added in late August to the other two children the couple have had in less than four years, along with Ebersviller’s son from a previous relationship, one would think that their plates – and hearts – would be completely full. But, we’re not talking about “everyday people” here. We’re talking about the type of folks who, as a part of the UF family, are different. They’re educators. They’re givers. They’re people helping people. And that’s why these two extraordinary UF professors have, in their own words, “unofficially adopted” several college-aged kids going back to their days in North Carolina and continuing here at UF. Regardless of what is needed – advice, help with classes, a place to stay – Ebersviller and Lichtveld regularly extend their hands and hearts to include young people in need. 

So, when the pair ended up in the same program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for their graduate work, Ebersviller, by way of Tennessee Tech, and Lichtveld coming via Agnes Scott College in Georgia, they unknowingly had hearts in common before they even met. But, as it turned out, it wasn’t their outlook toward a helpful attitude that started the ball rolling. When they found themselves in close proximity for their first research lab at UNC, they “were sort of the ‘new kids’ in the lab,” Ebersviller said, “so they put us together. And when Kim told me she’d gone to Agnes Scott, I sang a particular song to her that only alumni from there would know.”     

“I was like, ‘wait a minute…you know Agnes Scott?’ It’s not like it’s a well-known college,” Lichtveld remembered. As it turned out, Seth’s mentor at Tennessee Tech went to the school and taught him the song. It was a perfect way to break the ice, and the two became friends almost immediately, eventually, Lichtveld said, “trying to start dating, and hopefully not messing it up.”

Not only did they not mess it up, Ebersviller and Lichtveld soon realized that they needed each other, in love and in life, and the pair became virtually inseparable, leading lives that often mirrored one another. They both got post-doctoral positions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in North Carolina, and when it came time for a career change, the couple similarly stayed connected, albeit with a bit of luck. “I was working for the EPA during the day, and tutoring/teaching at night,” Lichtveld said, “and it wasn’t long before I realized that I liked my night job a lot more than my day one.” She wanted to teach, and it just so happened that a position was opening up at University of Findlay. Never having lived north of the Mason/Dixon line, and, in fact, having been born in South America, Lichtveld was a bit hesitant at first, but was hardly convinced that she’d get the position anyway. “I figured I’d practice what it was like to interview and all that,” she said, “and UF looked similar to Agnes Scott, so I thought maybe it could be the place for us.” During the interviewing process, she found out that there were actually two positions opening up, and that seemed like an omen of sorts to the couple, who were, by that time, married.

“The joke is that, because they hired Kim,” Ebersviller said, “they had to take me.”

And what was lucky for them was even more so for UF, as now, nearly six years after being hired on in the EHSS program, the pair are still inseparable; but, instead of researching as students, comparing notes for their desk jobs at the EPA, and planning for potential careers, they’re up for tenure, comparing preps and tests for the classes they teach, and planning for their future as a family.

With newborn Grace, Lichtveld continues to teach courses online, while Ebersviller regularly comes to campus to teach his live classes. They bounce ideas off each other, ask each other to look through their assignments to check for clarity, and she has him check her exams to make sure they’re not too long or too hard. And, as they’re both up for tenure and promotion, they’ve taken to researching together once again.

And they’re mutually thrilled to be able to live their lives and traverse their academic paths in the EHSS program at University of Findlay. Their passion for both environmental progress and for the students they educate is well-supported and nurtured by the University, they said, and their excitement for the program continuing to make strides toward future success is easy to understand. New developments like an indoor research enclosure, built on campus nearly two years ago, and the impending construction of the Outdoor Enclosure lab at UF’s All Hazards Training Center – one of only six in the world – have created what the pair call an opportunity for “unifying science,” by bringing students from different disciplines together, and by calling on businesses to improve their environmental impact. “EHSS students will be a part of the research, obviously, but so will biology, chemistry, and others,” Lichtveld said. “And, we have the potential to create really good relationships with local industries also. We’ll inevitably be able to help anybody who’s interested in what they’re outputting from their industry and how they might reduce that.”

After all of the research; after all of the many conferences presented together; after all of the air quality tested and exams presided over, the two are still side-by-side, their families and their love for them and each other tightly in tow. And one doesn’t have to use science, environmental or otherwise, to figure out why. In fact, Lichtveld will tell you. “A lot of people need their own space,” she said, “but for us it’s just the opposite. We truly enjoy working and researching together.”

Big plans. Big hearts.

With two people as committed to each other and to University of Findlay as they are, it’s a big blessing to have Seth Ebersviller and Kim Lichtveld in our EHSS family and as a part of an ever-growing program.