Meet Dennis Ruez,
Assistant Professor and Chair, Environmental Studies
- B.S., Geology and Biology, Murray State University
- M.S., Geology, University of Florida
- Ph.D., Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin
- Many kids love fossils and can pronounce the tongue-twister names of dinosaurs better than adults. It seems that most people lose that interest in paleontology when they get older. I guess I never grew up!
- Geologists seem to get involved in their discipline more than people in other fields. Although there is a ton of work geologists do in the library and lab, there is no substitute for being outside to see everything in context. For five years, I taught the undergraduate geology field camp course, which traveled from west Texas to Montana. We would spend weeks in the hottest and coldest parts of the Rockies, pulling together all of the skills taught in geology courses to create an extensive immersive experience.
- Students enter my courses with very diverse backgrounds, interests, and goals; it’s my job to identify those characteristics. Because different people learn best in different ways, I incorporate multiple styles of presentation, activities, and methods of evaluation in my courses.
- Paleontology, environmental change, and science education
Major project underway:
- I’m working on creating models based on modern ecological patterns that can be applied to fossil localities to quickly determine past environmental conditions. Part of the challenge is the fact that approximately 11,000 years ago, most of the species of large mammals in North and South America went extinct. I use multiple methods to get around that challenge. Most of my work is on rodents and rabbits – groups that were little affected by the extinction of the larger mammals. Diversity within those groups is dependent on temperature. Distribution of body mass of mammals also matches with ecological patterns, as do data varying from the microscopic scratches on the surfaces of teeth to the chemistry of fossils.
Advice to prospective students:
- Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. Attend a baseball game. Try out for a play. Run for a student government position. Watch a Broadway musical at the Sangamon Auditorium. Join a student group. Treat college as more than a series of classes; treat it as an experience.
Best thing about UIS:
- Although UIS is a small school, our location in the state capital provides access to resources unavailable even to most large universities. My environmental studies students can work with the lawmakers who create environmental policy; the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors our state’s environmental activities; the Illinois State Museum; and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources – the stewards of our environment.