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Dr. Robert Dowler: Creative Endeavors

October 18, 2011

From West Texas road kill to the rodents of the Galapagos Islands, Dr. Robert Dowler’s research interests benefit both his students and the entire scientific community.

A 23-year ASU faculty member, Dowler is the Tippett Professor of Biology and curator of the Mammals Collection in the Angelo State Natural History Collections. In addition to his own research, he mentors numerous student research projects and leads study abroad trips to Central America and Europe.

For his continuing efforts in those arenas, Dowler was honored with the 2011 ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Research/Creative Endeavor.

Dowler’s students benefit from his commitment to research as he is always ready to help mentor their projects.

His most glamorous research in the Galapagos Islands actually stemmed from his time at Fordham University prior to his arrival at ASU. One of his doctoral students was interested in the captive management of rare animals from the Galapagos Islands, specifically the rodents. There was minimal research at the time even though rodents were the most threatened group on the islands with several species already considered extinct. However, it was not until Dowler arrived at ASU that he was able to secure a Faculty Research Enhancement Grant and head to the islands.

“We made some major discoveries and, as a result, I was able to go back again,” Dowler said. “I ultimately got National Geographic Society funding to make several more trips over two years.”

While on the islands, Dowler and his team actually discovered a rodent species thought extinct for almost a century. He has also made research trips to the East Indies, Guyana, Ecuador and Australia. His many accolades include previous teaching awards from ASU and the ASU Alumni Association, and the Packard Outstanding Educator Award from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists.

Perhaps less sensational is Dowler’s personal project that involves collecting road kill. Many of the specimens he retrieves are used to supplement the Natural History Collections, for class instruction and for student research. He used to scare his wife, Paula, by storing carcasses in their home freezer, but he now has access to storage units at ASU.

“You can get all kinds of information from the dead animals rather than letting them rot by the side of the road,” Dowler said. “We use the skulls for teaching purposes and we save some of the tissue to be used in DNA analysis.”

As part of his current research into skunk diseases and parasites, Dowler recently arranged with the state Rabies Lab in Austin to receive skunk heads for ASU. In addition to his own use, he sends skunk tissues to Oklahoma State University and blood samples to the Centers for Disease Control for various research purposes.

Dowler’s students also benefit from his commitment to research as he is always ready to help mentor their projects.

“For most of our students who want to go on to a career in research, we encourage them to get involved in undergraduate research before they enter a master’s program,” Dowler said. “That way, they will have a leg up because many students at other universities don’t get the opportunity to get involved in research so early. I think that is something that ASU does really well.”

“Not all of our students want a career in research,” he added. “But, if they can put on an employment résumé or application materials that they have been involved in research projects, it is still an advantage.”

ASU students also benefit from Dowler’s interest in study abroad. To date, he has led four student summer trips to study ecology in Costa Rica and two trips to study natural history in England, France and Germany.

“Every trip is an adventure because it’s a whole new group of students,” Dowler said. “We give them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go places and see things that they otherwise would not have had the chance to experience.”

Enhancing the student experience is what Dowler is all about.

At a Glance

TITLE Tippet Professor of Biology, Curator of Mammals Collection

HONOR
2011 President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Research/Creative Endeavor

EDUCATION
Ph.D., Texas A&M University; M.A., Texas Tech University; B.S., Ohio State University

TEACHING AREAS
Evolution, Zoology, Mammalogy

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