A UNT professor of biological sciences received an outstanding educator award from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, or SWAN, at its annual conference earlier this month in Memphis.
Earl G. Zimmerman received the Robert L. Packard Outstanding Educator Award. It is presented to a member who, in his or her career, has made significant contributions to the understanding of the plant and animal life of the southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America through teaching or presenting scientific information to the general public.
"The award is a tremendous honor from a group I am proud to have been a part of for years," says Zimmerman. The achievements considered for this award include number of graduate students mentored, number of undergraduate and graduate courses taught, impact on the careers of students, public lectures, popular articles, public exhibitions and field trips for the public.
Former students and colleagues who recommended Zimmerman for the award wrote:
- "Earl conveyed a passion for field work and for sciences…both through his enthusiasm for our progress and through his colorful stories. He often taught us about the history of our field with tales from his own graduate work."
- "Those of us who came later in Earl's career felt like part of a bigger 'family' that included all of Earl's earlier students, and to some extent, even a part of the wider family of mammalogists."
- "Dr. Zimmerman is a truly outstanding personality, warm and joyful. I'm finding it difficult to convey in a letter the intangible things that make him such an inspiration to those students who have been lucky enough to work with him."
Zimmerman says the numerous field trips he led to Mexico, Utah and New Mexico have been vitally important to the student attendees.
"They can read all about the plants and animals in desert country and how they adapt to the environment, but seeing it firsthand is more important," he says.
Last October, Zimmerman and two other UNT faculty members led a group of five students on a weeklong, 41-mile canoe trip down the Brazos River recreating author John Graves' journey in the book Goodbye to a River.
The Southwestern Association of Naturalists was founded in May 1953 to promote the field study of living and fossil plants and animals in the southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America and to aid in the scientific activities of its members. Zimmerman served as president of SWAN from 1991 to 1993. UNT recognized him with the J.H. Shelton Excellence in Teaching Award in 1992 and the President's Council Teaching Award in 2002.
Zimmerman retired from UNT in spring 2006 after 36 years. For the past two years, he has been on modified service, teaching classes in spring 2007 and the current semester, but this semester is his last in the classroom. Zimmerman says the thing he will miss most is his interaction with students.
"I had two mentors who emphasized the importance of the student in the learning process. They served as an inspiration to me to work with and to train students," he says.
UNT News Service Press Release
Rafael McDonnell can be reached at RMcDonnell@unt.edu.