Robert Bringolf, an associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, helps students learn to evaluate information and to think critically and objectively about environmental issues.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
My bachelor’s degree is from Wartburg College in Iowa, my master’s degree is from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and my Ph.D. is from Iowa State University. I’m currently an associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and I also serve as graduate coordinator for the school.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
We moved to Athens/UGA in 2007. My wife, Deana, and I had never been to Georgia before my interview, but we were immediately charmed by Athens and the campus. It felt right and we have been blessed to be here ever since.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I truly enjoy all of my courses for a variety of reasons, but no doubt the common denominator is interacting with students. Their energy, passion, curiosity and (mostly) unjaded outlook is contagious. Whether it’s hands-on lab activities in “Fish Physiology,” in-depth discussions of global seafood production challenges in “Sustainable Aquaculture,” or assessing risks of contaminants to fish and wildlife in “Ecotoxicology,” students make the courses fun, and invariably I learn from them.
What interests you about your field?
Water is to survival as clean water is to thriving. Beyond having sufficient supplies for drinking water and food production, clean water is critical for supporting recreation like fishing, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, etc. and sustaining healthy aquatic ecosystems. Chemicals have become an integral (i.e. unavoidable) part of our daily lives, yet surprisingly we know very little about how they affect the environment now and for future generations. I do what I do out of a sense of calling to environmental stewardship.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Receiving handwritten notes from students is deeply humbling; these have been as rewarding as anything else in my career. Receiving a financial gift from a former student to complete a new greenhouse dedicated to aquaponics teaching and research was absolutely amazing. Participating in the Lilly Teaching Fellows Program (2008-2010) was a fantastic experience largely because of meeting so many passionate and inspiring people across campus. Serving as Warnell graduate coordinator also has been very enjoyable because there is a true sense of being able to make a difference in helping students achieve their goals and dreams.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
One of my favorite things about UGA is the land-grant mission of teaching, research and service. The deepest learning occurs when students connect information with action, whether through research activities or outreach in the community. Research benefits from the creativity and fresh perspectives that students bring, and effective outreach is informed by teaching and research.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
The ability to think critically and objectively about environmental issues and beyond. We live in an information-rich world where facts are exceedingly easy to look up. My role is not to disseminate information but to help students learn to navigate and evaluate information as they follow their passions.
Describe your ideal student.
Inquisitive, honest and aware that they are part of a community and world that is much larger than themselves. Also, they care more about truly learning than their grade—and are not addicted to electronic devices.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Walk across campus on graduation day each semester. This has become a personal tradition because of the time for quiet reflection and celebration. Plus, I need the steps.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Spend time with Deana, our two sons and daughter. We are very fortunate to live on the Oconee River and fishing is a true passion, so for a homebody like me it doesn’t get much better than that. I especially enjoy sharing the experience with people who don’t get to go out very often; it’s awesome to see the excitement in their eyes when they are surrounded by the beauty of our rivers and lakes.
Community/civic involvement includes….
Working with local individuals and groups like churches and K-12 schools interested in aquaponics (growing fish and plants in a closed-loop system) to produce food or teach/learn any variety of topics such as biology, chemistry, agriculture, sustainability science, entrepreneurship, etc. My wife and I are also committed to leading lives of worship and service, particularly alongside college students.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
Some of my favorites include “Braveheart,” “The Green Mile,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “Gladiator,” and “Christmas Vacation” (“…You serious, Clark?”). Rather predictably, I love rooting for the underdog, which is why I also love sports, and am inspired by those who stand up for justice in spite of impossible circumstances. I also love stories with supernatural elements that capture the essence of miracles. “Every man dies, but not every man really lives.”
Proudest moment at UGA?
Every graduation ceremony, students completing master’s and doctoral degrees and getting their first jobs, and receiving the student-selected Warnell Xi Sigma Pi Herrick Professor of the Year award.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Though we may not be proud of everything in our past or may not initially understand why we have certain experiences, gifts and passions, they all uniquely shape us to make a difference in the lives of others and the world at just the right time. Make a difference.
(Originally published Sept. 18, 2016)