Alumni Achievement Award-Winner
One of the nation's more prominent ecologists, William Reiners started his
career at Knox, where he received a bachelor's degree in biology. After
graduation, he served for six months in the U. S. Army and then pursued
his master's and doctorate in botany from Rutgers University. His more than 45-year career has taken him from Rutgers to Dartmouth College, where he chaired the Department of Biological Sciences, to the University of Wyoming, where he chaired the Department of Botany and still teaches.
Reiner's research has focused on the nature of ecosystems and their response to disturbance and change, and he is widely published in his field. Most recently, he is the co-author with Jeffrey Lockwood of Philosophical Foundations for the Practices of Ecology (Cambridge University Press 2009). Reiners has been recognized by the University of Wyoming with the Presidential Award for Scholarly Work and the J. E. Warren Chair for Environment and Energy, and by Rutgers University as a Distinguished Alumnus. He is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Ecological Society of America. He lives with his wife, Norma, in Laramie, Wyoming.
Knox Magazine: Describe your Knox experience.
William Reiners: I view my Knox experience in terms of how three elements -- friends, environment, and faculty -- influenced an intellectually naïve, politically parochial, and experientially limited suburban bumpkin. My fellow students offered their friendship without reservation -- friendships that could be, and many of which have been, life-long. They became part of the learning process, as well as a wonderful peer support group which, while almost entirely white in composition, provided relative diversity in terms of geographic referencing, personal value systems, academic attitudes, social sophistication. The environmental atmosphere of the College, and Galesburg itself, had a charming, historical aura, as well as a sense of stability missing from my suburban home, which was undergoing massive, postwar development and change. Galesburg's nineteenth century architecture, the stately trees on campus and in Standish Park, and the railroads rumbling through the night provided a retrospective place for learning and growing. This was all embedded within agricultural landscapes interspersed with wooded stream channels incised into the deep glacial till of the region. Finally, the faculty -- the most important ingredient of the Knox experience -- gave generously of themselves with what seems, in retrospect, like loving care. It might not be too much to say that after my parents, these men and women made me what I am.
KM: How has that experience affected your life?
WR: Knox faculty and days spent at Green Oaks influenced me to pursue the then small field of ecology. This meant gaining a higher academic degree and, ultimately, a fulfilling career in academia, which allowed me to try to understand how nature works through research, as well as to pursue a career-long involvement with students in the classroom and in a wide variety of field experiences. What a luxurious lifestyle-to be paid to do what one wanted most to do, in an academic environment dedicated to learning and helping others to achieve their potential! But there were other influences too: appreciation of literature, maintaining a musical side of life, trying to understand humankind and society, striving to be decent and to recognize what is truly progressive in social and moral senses. These ancillary values were Knox legacies as well.
KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
WR: For all the time, effort, and money spent on research, my contributions in that area, although respectable, are relatively minor compared with my helping undergraduates and graduate students achieve their goals and have fulfilling lives, themselves. While scholarly achievements are enabling and, in fact, necessary; giving to students as a teacher and mentor and to my institution through various leadership roles are probably more important achievements. Of course, having a family and raising two successful children are parallel successes of even greater value.
KM: What will you do to celebrate your Alumni Achievement Award?
WR: My wife and I will travel to and from Galesburg for the Founders' Day ceremony by train from Tucson. We enjoy train travel, and the trip itself will be a celebration. I also hope to interact with contemporary Knox students in their classrooms while there, see old Knox friends, and visit Green Oaks once more.
KM: What words of advice would you offer to current Knox students?
WR: Your years at Knox are among the most precious of your life. Take every opportunity to know individual persons, including faculty members, deeply and well. Treat every person as a valued individual with his or her own important story. Strive for the broadest possible perspective on the human condition. Accept that you will have a lifetime of learning. Make yourself useful in some tangible way -- it will not be the only way you will be able to make a contribution, but it is a start as your life and potential unfold to ever greater capacities. Realize that the world is undergoing massive changes of multi-century proportions that will alter American's roles and circumstances in many ways, some unpleasant. Prepare yourself to adapt to wrenching change while maintaining fundamental values and faith in the dream of fulfilling lives for everyone on a beautiful, viable planet.