Jim was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1953; graduated with a B.S. in Botany with high honors from Michigan State University in 1977; received his M.S. in Plant Ecology from the University of Florida Gainesville in 1980; and earned his Ph.D. in Forest Ecology and Silviculture from Duke University in 1987. He received Fulbright research fellowships to study forest ecology in Malaysia (1985) and India (1996), and served as a program officer at the National Science Foundation from 2006-2008. Jim currently is a Professor of Ecosystem Ecology at Iowa State University.