Local Folks: Josh Gellers

Local Folks: Josh Gellers
Josh Gellers

While Josh Gellers might claim his move to Jacksonville was just luck and timing, it took two years of applying to more than 78 jobs to finally beat out nearly 150 applicants for a job as an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of North Florida (UNF).

“I’m very grateful, Gellers said.

Gellers grew up in Plantation in South Florida and graduated from the University of Florida; he thinks these ties gave him a leg up from the competition.

“I don’t want to say I wasn’t a good candidate, but that definitely played a bigger role,” Gellers said. “I was very excited to go there because it was a place I’d heard of, in a city that I had also heard of. Which is not always the case if you’re an academic.”

He described the job as a perfect match.

“I never saw myself moving back to Florida,” he said. “But everything kind of worked out. I’ve established my career, a reputation and my extended family is here.”

A few years after taking the job at UNF, he worked his way up to associate professor and is now a full professor. He specializes in environmental law and politics. While his focus in college wasn’t on environmental relations, he took a class in geography on El Nino and environmental issues and ended up doing research with the professor and fell in love with it.

“I just thought, how else can I analyze what’s going except to take what I’m learning in my macroeconomics class and use it to understand what’s driving the environmental consequences,” he said.

Gellers also has a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in political since from the University of California, Irvine. He focused his dissertation on environmental rights and did field work in Nepal and Sri Lanka. He flirted with law school, but ultimately took a different path.

“I’m still very much engaged with environmental law, but analyzing it as a social scientist; and that has kind of become my calling card, a political scientist who studies environmental law policy,” he said.

When he moved to Jacksonville, he lived in the intracoastal area before moving to Riverside because it reminded him of the walkability of Long Beach, California.

“I wanted to replicate that here,” he said.

After marrying Allie Armstrong, the couple moved to Murray Hill and had a daughter, Lillie Faye Gellers.

Josh Gellers, his wife Allie Armstrong and daughter Lillie Faye Gellers attend Porchfest in Springfield.
Josh Gellers, his wife Allie Armstrong and daughter Lillie Faye Gellers attend Porchfest in Springfield.

“We opted for Murray Hill, and we’ve been here ever since,” he said. “We love it, and we have friends who live on our street and on our side of the neighborhood and they have kids. So, we have playdates and all that kind of stuff.”

Gellers met Armstrong at Douglas Anderson High School during a monthly visit on behalf of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville’s Great Decisions program. His partner at Douglas Anderson ended up playing matchmaker and introduced him to Armstrong, a counselor at the high school.

“We agreed to do a sort of quasi-chaperoned blind date,” Gellers said. “We met at now-defunct Black Sheep.” His friend left shortly thereafter for the Gellers and Armstrong to have an actual date.

“I think it was like a five-hour date,” he said. And the rest is history.

After moving to Murray Hill in 2019, Gellers decided to get a even more involved in the community. He became a member of the Murray Hill Preservation Association and was charged with handling the community’s response to the Murray Hill chemical smell. He met with local, state and federal environmental officials, and even earned an environmental education and advocacy award from the Jacksonville Environmental Protected Board for his work.

Gellers served on the City of Jacksonville’s Special Committee on Resiliency and Mayor Donna Deegan’s Transition Team on the Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Resiliency. He is also the newest member of the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board.

“It was really a confluence of activities that I had been involved with in the city, as well as at UNF that exposed me to the Environmental Protection Board’s work,” Gellers said. “And then there was this opportunity where there was now going to be a position for what they call a discreet citizen.”

The timing was right, and the board needed to fill the vacancy quickly. He will serve in the role for five years.

He likes the Environmental Protection Board because it’s “boots on the ground.”

“We’re fighting this company and we’re holding the party responsible, and we get to vote on it,” he said.

In his career, he has also been fortunate to be able to travel. He’s been invited to speak in Australia and Germany. In addition to performing research in Sri Lanka and Nepal, he’s also done field research in China and Japan. Whenever he travels, he likes to take photos of his adventures.

A photo he took while on a research trip in Sri Lanka was a finalist for a World Bank photography competition.

Outside of work and community involvement, Gellers enjoys going to concerts, playing fantasy football, running and photography. He learned to play the drums in middle school band and was in a punk rock group in high school. When he was leaving for college, he realized he couldn’t take a drum set with him.

“I was like, I’m just going to have to learn something more portable,” Gellers said. “And so that’s when I sort of picked up the guitar.”

Gellers believes no one can be a master of everything, but one can specialize in their own niche.

“I think being an expert in a very narrow area has made me very humble to accept that I don’t know a lot about other things,” he said. “I can just focus on my lane and develop my very limited expertise in that manner.”

By Jennifer Jensen
Resident Community News

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