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Returning to Her Roots

June 18, 2009

Growing up in the rural Concho Valley, Dr. Bonnie Amos was introduced to nature at an early age and has been passing on her love of all things botanical to students in the ASU Biology Department for over 20 years.

Already the winner of ASU’s 2008 Teaching Excellence Award, Amos has also been named a Piper Distinguished Professor for 2009 by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the teaching profession.

The Piper Foundation established the award in 1958 and Amos is just the ninth ASU professor to receive the honor.  In addition to being one of the top statewide honors for professors in higher education, the designation carries with it a $5,000 honorarium.

Though she originally planned a career in botany research, Amos decided to take the teaching route to have more contact with students.  Now, she has the best of both worlds.

“I really like the teaching portion of it and what is great about ASU is the opportunity that I have to work with students in research,” Amos said.  “In fact, the research that I do now, I could not do without their help.”

That research includes studies and surveys of plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert and Chisos Mountains regions of Big Bend National Park and is almost always aided by both graduate and undergraduate students.

“Being an ASU graduate, I appreciate what that opportunity meant to me when I was a student here,” Amos said.  “It really made a difference in my life.  It enriched not only my education, but helped me select a career.  So I wanted to come back and pay back that debt that I felt I owed this university.”

Upon her return, Amos was quickly named head of the Biology Department, a post she held for 13 years, but then vacated to free up more time for teaching and research.  She is also curator of the Angelo State Natural History Collections’ Herbarium, which contains over 60,000 plant specimens from Texas, the U.S. and around the world.

“It’s amazing,” Amos said.  “I think I could work in there even if it wasn’t part of my responsibilities.”

Amos credits an ASU plant taxonomy class for really opening her mind to a career in botany, but her love of nature goes all the way back to her childhood.

“My grandmother would walk me around their property, show me the wildflowers, tell me the names of them and tell me interesting things about them,” Amos said.  “My parents both loved the outdoors and my dad was an avid hunter and fisherman, so I was always outside with him.  I think that early introduction to nature made a big difference.”

Amos holds both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ASU and her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending sporting events, traveling, snorkeling and spending time with her family.  Her immediate family consists of four rescued dogs, Sugar, Dottie, Lucy and Rosy, who share her home near Dove Creek.

While she admits to occasionally wondering what her life would have been like had she gone into research instead of teaching, Amos has found a home at ASU.

“I have excellent colleagues,” she said.  “We all have the same objective and that is doing the best we can for our students.  That makes it a nice place to work.”