Professor of Psychology
Meghan Coyner, Class of 2006
Jesse Purdy spent two of the previous four fall semesters researching and working in the frozen frontier of Antarcticaand he loved every minute. During the fall of 2001 and again in 2002, Purdy went to the last largely untouched continent and, with fellow researchers, set up a remote ice camp. Their goal while there was to study Weddell seals, which can reach nine feet in length and weigh up to 1200 pounds. The most interesting fact about Weddell seals might be that they can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes when they divesometimes down to 1400 feetfor food. Purdy conducts research on the social interaction of Weddell seals, including study of their mating practices.
Originally from Colorado, Purdy received his bachelors in psychology, masters in general experimental psychology and Ph.D. in comparative psychologyall from Colorado State University. When the time came to look for a job, a faculty member at Colorado State University suggested Southwestern University, where he himself had attended undergraduate school. So, in 1978, Purdy and his wife came to Georgetown and Southwestern, where they have been ever since.
Now holder of the Brown Chair, Purdy has witnessed substantial change in both Georgetown and the University. What has not changed is Purdys interest in marine mammals. He says, Ive always maintained an avid interest in marine mammals. Initially, I wanted to do marine biology, but job possibilities were slim. I also considered a major in physicsuntil I actually took physics.
A research methods course helped Purdy discover what he wanted to do with his life: study animal behavior.
Several years later, he has been able to do just that. Purdy, with student help, runs Southwesterns aquatic animal lab. In the lab, students work side by side with Purdy studying the evolution of intelligence and learning mechanisms of cuttlefish. Working closely with students is what keeps things interesting and challenging, Purdy says, but it remains critical that students get to work in an actual lab setting. It is very exciting to watch students take ownership of a laboratory project and provide new insight, but at the same time, it is challenging, since it takes a while to help students discover why one might want to be doing this type of research.
One particularly memorable experience for Purdy came during his first trip, along with a group of students, to the Pacific Northwest. The excitement and energy from the students was incredible, even though we ended up sinking a boat and constantly wondering where our food and water were going to come from. In the endwhen we had to leavethe atmosphere was solemn and quiet. No one wanted to go. The students had truly developed an appreciation and respect for the beauty and complexity of the natural world, says Purdy.
Currently, he teaches several different classes, including animal learning theory, comparative psychology, and sensation and perception. This last course asks students to imagine what it is like to be an animal and what their world might look like given their very different sensory systems.
In addition to planning a future Brown Symposium, Purdy is considering writing a book on whales. He hopes to provide detailed information on them and to help instill a sense of the importance of protecting and preserving nature. It is hard to know what ones legacy will be, but I am working hard to have an impact saving nature for my kids kids.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Ernest Valdez, Class of 2006
Suzanne Buchele was born in the rural Connecticut town of North Stonington. As a young girl, she helped raise sheep on the family farm. Many of her experiences growing up on a farm made her realize that there is much learning that can happen outside of the classroom environment. This discovery has proven invaluable in her teaching career.
Her father, as well as being a part-time farmer, was a nuclear physicist and mathematician. Her mother also was a mathematics major in college. I was never told that mathematics, or any scientific field, was not appropriate for a girl to be interested in, she says. In fact, she attributes part of her fascination with math and computers to her parents influence. Always interested in those fields, she says working with computers is her main outlet for problem solving.
For six years, Buchele worked in the private sector as a research scientist and intended to return to this type of research after completing her doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation advisor, however, convinced her to try teaching, if only on a trial basis. I saw that Southwestern was hiring for a position in computer science, and I knew that opportunity may not come around again for a while, she notes.
Buchele was also aware of Southwesterns national reputation as an exceptional liberal arts university. She applied for the available position and was hired. She continued working on her dissertation while teaching at Southwestern. Recalling those hectic times, Buchele says, My husband, Steve, was finishing his masters degree at the same time, so staying in the Central Texas area was convenient for us, and Ive been very happy here ever since.
As a professor, she finds great fulfillment in her work because she loves helping students get to the point where they understand. Indeed, it is the people that she finds provide the most fulfilling part of her work and experience at the University. I love my colleagues, both in my department and across the campus. The students are smart, hard-working and engaged. Life is about people and relationships, and Southwestern has wonderful people.
Buchele also loves the small class sizes. She finds it is much easier to respond to and work with students when classes typically have less than 20 students. Everyone benefits. Students get to know each other and me and are not too intimidated to ask questions. I get to know them, and know more fully each students strengths and weaknesses so that I can target help more specifically to them.
Outside the classroom, she serves on a number of University committees and is also an inaugural Paideia Professor. One of the reasons she feels so strongly about the Paideia Program (www.southwestern.edu/paideia) is because it gets the students involved outside the classroom. Paideia works at the meta level. It helps students to integrate outside experiences with their academic endeavors as well as make connections between different courses. This gives students a better view of their entire college experience, and helps them be more intentional about the choices they are making. Paideia Scholars meet one-on-one with Paideia Professors, bringing their reflections together and forging strong relationships. She finds great joy in her involvement with this program.
Buchele is the recipient of the Universitys 20042005 Exemplary Teacher Award. It is based on service inside and outside the classroom, areas she knows very well. I was certainly surprised and flattered. It is faculty-nominated, so I am very honored that my colleagues think so highly of me. It does let me know that I am valued here, which is a great feeling, she says.