Tenure at Adams State created symbiotic relationships

(05-30-2013)

Dr. Brent Ybarrondo retires from Adams State

Article by Linda Relyea

ybarrondo lectures in class

Precisely at 1 p.m. on Friday, April 19, Dr. Brent Ybarrondo, Adams State University professor of biology, enters the classroom. Full mustache and brown hair pulled into his signature ponytail, he carries a stack of papers; smiling, he teases with a couple of the undergraduate students.

The space doubles as biology lab and lecture classroom. A dusty magpie swings over the front of the class while a worn-looking bird of prey perches near the clock. Ybarrondo wastes no time in beginning his lecture, his props include an overhead projector, screen, blackboard and chalk, and a visual aid or two – all the SMART in this classroom comes from his extensive knowledge and the intellect of his students.

As he moves about from blackboard to the diagram projected on the screen, Ybarrondo frequently stops to ask for student input, and when interrupted by an unsolicited question, he replies immediately in an encouraging way.

There is no indication on this Friday afternoon that the end of the 2013 spring semester looms near, and with that, Ybarrondo's retirement. The energy level remains high as he passionately shares information. "I strive to develop students' ability to think at higher cognitive levels," he said. "Memorization does not constitute understanding." He wants students to feel proud when they have completed a bachelor's degree that they can also think at a higher level.

"Dr. Ybarrondo brings his passion and learning into the classroom," Nathan Samora said. "He is one of my favorite professors. His unique way of teaching helps me understand the ideas and primary principles." Samora will graduate in May 2014 and plans to attend veterinary school. "Dr. Ybarrondo uses the Socratic method of teaching. He gets you to answer your own questions."

Readies students

Amber Harlan '12 said she graduated from Adams State well-prepared for the rigors of medical school. She attends Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska. "The level of his (Ybarrondo) classes was very difficult, and that is a good thing. I am now better prepared for the expectations at this kind of level.

Classroom time will be what Ybarrondo misses most after retirement. "Everything else is supportive of that," he said.

Chair of the Chemistry and Mathematics Department Dr. Matt Nehring said he admires Ybarrondo's ability to pull seemingly disparate topics together under a common umbrella. "Brent has engaged students with relevant and cohesive discussions about quantum mechanics, evolution, and components of Einstein's theories of relativity – all in a single biology class period."

Ybarrondo enjoys the satisfaction that comes from an effective experience in the classroom. "It feels good to have helped bring them to a point at which they were not operating before."

Mario Padilla '11 credits Ybarrondo for influencing his pursuit of a graduate education in entomology. "Taking his entomology course opened my eyes to the wonderful diversity of insects and how they could be used as fantastic model systems for a variety of research areas."

Currently in a graduate program at Pennsylvania State University, Padilla said anytime he had a question about a current course or his future, Ybarrondo was there to help. "He has written me letters of recommendation, one of which, I believe, strongly influenced my acceptance to Penn State."

"He taught me how to be the critical thinking scientist, proper deployment of the scientific method, and how to ask biologically relevant questions," Padilla added.

Mutually Beneficial

Ybarrondo said "It is an honor and privilege to participate in students' intellectual development. It is especially rewarding to hear from graduates having gone on to achieve their goals and hope that you have contributed in some small way to their success."

After graduating in 1998 with a degree in biology, Rick Sloan, M.D., was accepted into three medical schools, and chose the University of Colorado. "Dr. Ybarrondo was my mentor and helped me make the right choices for classes for the four years at Adams State."

Dr. Benita Brink, Biology/Earth Sciences Department chair, said Ybarrondo developed the curriculum for the Biology Department to allow the progressive development of the student as a scientist and prepares them well for professional programs, graduate school, or careers with the federal and state natural resource agencies.

Ybarrondo enjoyed watching college students mature. "From terrified freshmen they mature into confident seniors, thinking so much more clearly and effectively than when they walked in the door."

Paul Sims '89 '94, now an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma, said, "Dr. Ybarrondo's courses were rigorous, and he expected his students to put forth substantial effort, but he was also fair and we knew he had our best interests in mind." Sims earned a master's in zoology from Colorado State University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After 21 years at Adams State, Ybarrondo retires with emeritus status. He said he hopes he made a significant contribution to the Biology Department in particular and Adams State in general. His former students say his impact encouraged their dreams and realistically prepared them for a future in science.

Dr. Brent Ybarrondo lectures in evolution class

Dr. Brent Ybarrondo lectures to students in his evolution class.

Students Describe Ybarrondo

  • Wise, hilarious, dependable, "You wanted him be proud of you and you would try hard for him because you wanted him to like you and be proud you." (Harlan)
  • Teacher, mentor, friend, "Once he told me my answer deserved a gold star. We laughed and I forgot about it. The next class period he presented me with a tiny gold star for my answer. That gesture made me feel confident in my grasp of the material, and may have eventually led me down the career path I am now on." (Padilla)
  • Smart, caring, full of integrity, "Dr. Ybarrondo exemplified the ideal college professor. He showed that it was possible to connect with his students while still maintaining very high standards." (Sims)
  • Intelligent, forthright, superior teacher, "When I graduated from medical school, Dr. Ybarrondo attended my graduation. This is something I will never forget. I can remember thinking that if it weren't for him, I may not even have been there getting this professional degree." (Sloan)

Vitals and Vitae of Dr. Brent Ybarrondo

Education:

  • Ph.D. zoology - University of Vermont;
  • M.A. biology - Boise State University;
  • B.S. biology (awarded with distinction), San Diego State University.

Adams State Career:

  • Assistant professor of biology, 1992;
  • Associate professor of biology, 1995;
  • Professor, 1999;
  • Chair of the Department of Biology and Earth Sciences, 1995 until 2010. ("I had no aspirations to chair or be an administrator, but somebody needed to step up.") Ybarrondo stepped down as chair in 2010 to devote his last three years to teaching full-time. (I spent the last three years doing what I came here to do.");
  • Emeritus professor of biology, 2013.

Adams State Grants:

  • State of Colorado Program of Excellence Award ($487,216);
  • Department of Defense Instrumentation and Research Support Program for Hispanic-Serving Institutions ($161,335)
  • A.D.A.M. Education Partnership Grant ($12,449);
  • National Science Foundation Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement Grant ($11,724).

Professional Memberships:

  • Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology;
  • American Society of Physiologists; and Sigma Xi.

Selected Presentations:

  • Invited symposium panelist: "Life on the edge: The physiology, ecology and evolution of insect thermoregulation and temperature tolerance", National meeting of the Entomological Society of America 1999;
  • Invited seminar, Department of Biology, University of South Dakota, 2001; Diving Beetles in a Thermal Minefield;
  • Invited seminar, Phi-Eta Chapter of βββ Biological Honor Society, 2012: African Dung Beetles – Nature's Pooper Scoopers, invited seminar.

Research:

  • Involves the mechanisms and evolution of physiological adaptations, particularly with respect to those associated with stressful environments.
  • A goal of his research is to formulate questions and employ techniques that enable him to address problems at both proximate and ultimate levels.
  • Current research involves comparative studies of the respiratory physiology, thermoregulation, and thermal preference of beetles (Coleoptera) and dragonflies (Odonata) and has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Most recent published manuscript:

  • On the Function of the Respiratory Airstore in Two Species of Water Scavenger Beetles (Coleoptera: Hydrophilidae), in revision for submission to the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Married:

  • Wife, Lori, 38 years

Non-academic pursuits:

  • Restoring vintage Volkswagens
  • Working in his woodshop
  • Racing vintage cars

Favorite insect:

  • Dung Beetle ("The males have a charming way of attracting a mate - using the freshest, biggest dung ball.")