Awards honoring outstanding leadership and service to the College will be presented June 2, 2018, during Reunion Convocation. Read about the other award recipients.
Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences Nathaniel Thoreau Wheelwright has inspired generations of Bowdoin students and alumni to cherish and seek to understand the natural world. A former student said: “It was clear from day one that he loved two things, teaching and ecology, and that he would not rest until all of his students gained some measure of that awe for nature. His classes opened worlds to me that I did not know even existed and set me on the career path I follow today.”
Wheelwright earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University and a PhD in zoology from the University of Washington. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida and a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University before arriving at Bowdoin in 1986. During his decorated three-decade career at the College, which has recently came to a close, he served as the director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island from 1987-2004 and taught ecology, ornithology, evolutionary biology, and more with enthusiasm and skill. He led numerous students and colleagues on research excursions to Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy.
For many of those Wheelwright taught, mentored, and worked alongside, his influence has been profound. To one former student who has embarked on a career studying birds, his Advanced Winter Field Ecology course was “life-changing.” A colleague described his impact this way: “His love for natural history and his ever-persistent dedication to the conservation of habitat and species have influenced countless numbers of students and organizations around the world, from the waters of Canada to the tropics of Costa Rica. His mentorship of students is consistent, strong, and empowering to the many graduates who have gone on to follow in his footsteps in science, both in academia and the public sector.”
Wheelwright’s legendary gift and passion for teaching has also been recognized nationally. In 2015, he received the Eugene S. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecology Education from the Ecological Society of America. In announcing the award, the Society hailed his “exemplary teaching” that “influenced over forty-nine students to pursue a PhD in ecology or related fields,” his coauthorship of scholarly papers with over twenty-five undergraduates, his mentorship of “hundreds of graduate students from dozens of universities” through his involvement in Organization of Tropical Studies courses, and his work, while on a Fulbright grant, with more than 400 students on the establishment of a natural history club at the University of Botswana.
For his inspirational teaching, guidance, scholarship, and mentorship, and the indelible imprint he made on the lives and careers of students and alumni, as well as the Bowdoin community and the greater community of scholars and lovers of the natural world, Nathaniel Wheelwright is receiving the 2018 Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff.