Inside USD

Making Science Seriously Fun

Monday, January 25, 2010

Boudrias-PHOTOThe walls of Michel Boudrias’ corner office are adorned with framed photos of crustaceans and invertebrates. Naturally, the University of San Diego professor’s bookshelf features books, but it also provides a home for toy dragons and sea creatures.

“I don’t take myself that seriously,” said Boudrias, noting he has a toy monster that can transform into a crab. “I have t-shirts that match every invertebrate group I teach.Every Tuesday, I wear a different one to class. I’ll put pictures of these creatures on my tests. I do it all because it’s a fun way to get students engaged in the class.”

Making science fun is serious business for Boudrias. A USD professor since 1992, when he completed his Ph.D. in oceanography at the Scripps Institution at UC San Diego, he chose teaching science over dedicating his life exclusively to research. It wasn’t a popular decision at the time. “When I left Scripps, the attitude in the late 80s and early 90s seemed to be that taking a teaching position meant I wasn’t good enough.”

It’s been 18 years, and Boudrias still knows he made the right decision. The Montreal native, who wanted to be a marine biologist since the age of 15, is an associate professor in USD’s Marine Science and Environmental Studies department, and is in his fourth year as its department chair.

A part-time faculty member for four years before gaining tenure-track status in 1996, Boudrias has always focused on making the USD student experience better. He was the science department’s director for international study abroad and is a big proponent for students to do “real-world” research, including projects he spearheads in Baja California, Jamaica and Tahiti. “It’s reinforcing the idea that students can make a difference. They’re doing research that actually applies and connects them to real-life situations.”

In 1997, he was among the first faculty members involved in the Passport to Success program (now known as the First-Year Experience), meant to assist freshman students’ successful transition to college. “I like to see our students grow as they work through their four years here,” he said. “There’s a buzz you get from their energy and feedback when they get into a topic.”

Sustainability is Boudrias’ latest project. As director of USD’s Sustainability Task Force, he gathered a committee that represented a cross-section of the university to develop a strategic plan. He devotes his time to academic aspects, while Michael Catanzaro is focused on operational issues and coordinates events that, together, are “critical for the university to move forward.”

Boudrias has big goals to help USD become a sustainability leader academically, visually and socially, but the married father of two teenagers said he’s encouraged about a new generation of students who already embrace environmental awareness.

“They’re more in tune with the issues, they have a connection,” he said. “I think we do a nice job of getting students engaged in the science side of it and, as a liberal arts university, students can take classes here that connect, too.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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