Legacy of learning: Longtime rangeland ecology and watershed management professor to retire
Laramie – After 50 years of Extension and education work, 37 of those years at the University of Wyoming (UW), Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management Dan Rodgers is officially retiring from his position.
As he reflects back on his career at UW and his experiences working in Wyoming, one of the highlights for Rodgers has been helping students discover their passion for learning and rangeland management.
“Working with the students has probably been the most rewarding part of my career here at UW,” says Rodgers, “Especially trying to get them motivated and to get them to think that they’re going to school for themselves.”
Growing up farming and ranching in north central Texas taught Rodgers many invaluable lessons in agriculture.
He explains that his father was pivotal in his education and love of learning.
“I was the oldest son and my dad tried to teach me everything he knew or heard, and he read a lot,” says Rodgers. “I tried to soak it all in.”
In school, Rodgers notes that he learned to be self reliant as his knowledge in certain topics rose above what his ag teacher could teach him.
“I made my own plant collection the first time I got interested in plants. My teacher just told me there was a book in the library I could check out on it,” he comments.
After showing his teacher his collection of grasses, Rodgers’ teacher had him teach the class about all that he had learned.
“That was probably my first attempt at teaching anybody. That led me to plan to go vocational ag,” Rodgers notes.
Ten days after graduating from high school, Rodgers began attending East Texas State College to obtain a degree in Agricultural Education.
Change of plans
As he was preparing to start the final year of his Agricultural Education program, Rodgers was given the opportunity to meet with a friend of his advisor about a graduate school program.
“He offered me support if I could start in January,” explains Rodgers. “So, I went back home and figured out how I could change that Ag Ed program and change to a general ag program, take about 22 hours that fall and could graduate in January.”
That January, Rodgers left to begin his master’s program in Range Management at Texas Tech.
“After 1.5 years there, I was done and trying to decide what to do, but that had been so good I thought, ‘Well maybe I should just keep going to school until I flunk out,’” he jokes.
While attending a range meeting in Wichita, Kan., Rodgers interviewed with several colleges for the PhD programs.
“Utah State University (USU) had a teaching assistantship available. I went home and married my girlfriend and off we went,” says Rodgers.
During the three years he was at USU, Rodgers gained experience teaching a variety of different courses, while also working on his research project.
After completing his PhD, Rodgers began looking for work closer to family in Texas.
“I saw a job for an Extension Specialist at Texas A&M University (TAMU),” says Rodgers. “I didn’t know what they did for sure, but I went down and interviewed with them.”
In September of 1967, Rodgers began working for TAMU as their third state Extension Specialist.
“That was fun for a long time except every biennium, the legislature gave us another area range specialist job and those guys all were working the good ranch country,” he laughs.
While he was able to do all of the youth work he wanted to and enjoyed working in east Texas, Rodgers decided that a career change was in order.
“I was spending more of my time doing budgets, plans to work and reports than I was range work,” Rodgers comments.
After seeing a job advertised at UW, Rodgers applied to and interviewed for a position in the Ecosystem Science and Management department.
“I started to work here on June 1 of 1980, which is coming up on 37 years now,” he says.
For the first 11 years of his career at UW, Rodgers’ focus was primarily on Extension, with only a month of teaching and two months of research.
However, after losing several faculty members in 1991, Rodgers convinced the department head to switch him to a focus on teaching.
“He was tickled to death to get out of that bind, so I’ve been heavy teaching for nine months with two months of Extension that I can do in summer and then just one month of research time,” comments Rodgers.
“In 1996, we started the WyRED, which the Wyoming Resource Education Days,” he notes. “I’ve continued doing Extension work in the summer, workshops and youth camps, as well as identifying plants for people.”
Looking back on his career at UW and toward the future, Rodgers concludes, “It’s been real fun, working with students and working with ranchers and agency people all over Wyoming for 37 years.”
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.