As a child, Bruce Kingsbury could be found ankle-deep in the creek near his house, catching frogs and snakes and lizards and pretty much any other creature he could find. These days, he’s sharing that love of amphibians and the natural world with students at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he directs the Environmental Resources Center. Find out what his favorite memories are and what we could all be doing to protect the environment as we play 20 Questions.
1. What excites you about nature?
I think nature is beautiful, and it’s not completely understood. I find myself a bit in awe of what’s out there.
2. What excites you about conservation?
I think we are obligated to try protect nature. We are the ones that have the power and the responsibility. I also believe that not everything has to have monetary value to be worth protecting.
3. What’s your favorite thing about being out in nature?
One of the things I like is it’s a little bit physically challenging. I like that challenge. My favorite thing is seeing and otherwise experiencing the plants and animals in the landscape and how they interact.
4. What is it about snakes that lights your fire?
I’m not sure. Maybe because they are so different and they are hard to find. They have an element of rarity. I’m studying the Eastern Massasauga (rattlesnake), which is about to be listed as a threatened species.
5. How does your work help people overcome the “ick” factor about snakes?
Snakes are emblematic of that general challenge of getting people to reconsider their perspectives on wildlife. We have a snake on hand to show people they aren’t slimy, they aren’t vicious. For many, once they hold a snake, they become fascinated. Getting people to reconsider their perspectives on things, that’s exactly what an educator does.
6. How can city dwellers help protect endangered species?
It’s part local, part more distant. Everyone can appreciate wildlife and wild places and support those organizations that protect them. We don’t need to go to Denali to appreciate it. I’m just happy to know the Amazon exists. If we can have people on board with protecting open lands, that would help. That’s why preserving areas like Eagle Marsh and the ACRES lands even in urban areas (like Fort Wayne) is important. You try to maintain the connectivity of natural places.
7. Will the plans to develop Fort Wayne’s riverfront areas affect their ecology?
There’s a tripod in the mission: economic development, recreation and restoration – protection and enhancement of the natural environment. We want to (preserve) as much of the natural (shoreline) as we can.
8. Which do you prefer: a classroom or a wetland?
9. What’s the best part about teaching?
Getting the students to think more critically and work on their writing skills.
10. The worst?
When the students don’t participate as fully as I’d like them to. They are spending money and time – we need them to think. It’s very frustrating to me when (students) operate on ‘what is the minimum I have to do?’
11. How have students changed since you began teaching?
I do feel as though students are less willing to engage deeply in topics than was my experience early on. Back then, the students worried about what they really had to get done (and they) loved going on field trips. Now field trips are viewed as a nuisance, something that takes a lot of planning outside of class. It’s viewed as an inconvenience. But spending time outside is a wonderful way to see how things work.
12. You serve as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at IPFW. What do you like about administration?
I like being helpful. I like making sure that everyone understands what the rules are and that everyone is treated fairly. I am striving for clarity in any environment. And I enjoy helping everyone become successful.
13. What subject should everyone master?
Critical thinking. People are far too willing to get to any answer because it can be done quickly.
14. What’s the most important item you bring with you in the field?
My eyes. It’s important to be aware and observant. And it’s good to bring water.
15. Why should we care about saving animals?
I’ve been asked that all my life. And the answer has changed over time. We have an obligation to protect them because we are the ones who are in control and therefore we are responsible. They have value because they exist.
16. What do you hope to accomplish with the Environmental Resources Center?
We want to improve our understanding of the natural environment through research and provide educational opportunities and develop outreach along the way. I want to provide value to the community and raise the profile of IPFW in the community through collaborations with faculty, students and the community at large.
17. What is your favorite memory?
Many of my favorite memories are of places I’ve been. Times out in the desert out West enjoying the beauty all around me. Places like Yosemite, the Sierra Nevadas, the Anza Borrego State Park in California. I love mountains. I love to fish. I would backpack for days in the Sierras and fish the high mountain lakes.
18. What progress have you seen since you came here from California?
I have seen a greater appreciation for large natural areas and a willingness of private citizens to invest in their protection. The general population of Fort Wayne has become gradually more interested in the natural environment and in living a more sustainable life.
19. Who was your favorite teacher?
Jim McKenna, my anthropology professor at Pomona College. He was enthusiastic and knowledgable and he knew everyone’s name, and that is a real skill.
20. What would you like your legacy to be?
I would like to have contributed to a better understanding of the natural world and to an increase in the protection of wild places. I would like it if because I was involved, the world is a cleaner, better place.