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End of an Era

Longtime biology professor calls it a career.

After more than three decades on the Angelo State biology faculty, Dr. Robert Dowler has hung up his skunk traps and tracking collars.

During his ASU tenure that began in 1988, Dowler became one of the nation’s preeminent skunk researchers, built one of the largest natural history collections of mammal specimens in the state, helped bring in nearly $2 million in external grant funding, conducted research on four continents, discovered a rodent species on the Galápagos Islands thought to be extinct for nearly a century, and impacted the lives of thousands of students.

“There are lots of choices in life. Coming to Angelo State was one of those, and it’s one that worked out great.”

But as all good things must come to an end, Dowler’s outstanding ASU career concluded with his retirement at the end of the summer 2022 semester.

“A lot of people said that I’d know when it was time to go,” Dowler said. “Turning 70 is part of it. Plus, there are a lot of things that are still fun, but some things that aren’t as fun anymore. When I weighed those things, that was part of it, as well.”

Dr. Robert Dowler “My whole life has been built around semesters, so that will change,” he added. “I’m looking forward to doing some things outside the academic calendar. But, I’ll miss working with the students. I’ve been doing this for about 40 years, so it’s going to be a shift, and I’m not sure how that works yet. I’ll have to let you know.”

One thing that will never shift is the respect and affection felt for Dowler by his former students. In December 2021 as Dowler was wrapping up his final mammalogy class, more than a dozen of his former students traveled from across the country to throw him a surprise reception in the Cavness Science Building.

“I’m blown away,” Dowler said at the reception. “I woke up this morning knowing today was my last mammalogy class, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. So this is pretty emotional. When something like this happens and you get all these people together, you can look back and realize that you probably have had some influence on people’s lives.”

“What’s funny is that one of the things my wife, Paula, and I are hoping to do is travel around and visit some of my former students,” he added. “So it’s pretty remarkable having them come to me instead of me going to them. That’s pretty cool.”

ASU biology faculty and Dowler's former students at his surprise retirement reception ASU biology faculty and Dowler's former students at his surprise retirement reception Dowler’s former students also think he is pretty cool.

“What makes Bob a great professor is the same thing that makes him a great human being. He’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met. He’s the nicest guy, puts everyone else before himself. He inspires everyone to succeed because you’re just too scared to fail and let him down. His ability to inspire young folks is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered.” – Darin Carroll, Class of 1994 & 1998, Director, Division of Scientific Resources, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“He’s a great mentor, almost like a father figure in some ways. Even though I graduated in 1999, we just published a paper together. So we’re still working together. Plus, all of the things Dr. Dowler taught me about collections management have played a role in how I do my job today.” – Marcy Revelez, Class of 1996 & 1999, Team Lead, CDC Biorepository

“Bob is a great educator. But it’s also about how compassionate he is, his level of empathy. It’s something that touches people, and it’s really obvious that he cares about his students. I went on to get my Ph.D. because I want to teach and to reach people like he does.” – Wes Brashear, Class of 2010 & 2013, Assistant Research Scientist, Texas A&M University

“He was my very first college professor in my first class. He helped reinforce my love for biology, and a lot of my teaching style, I’ve adapted from him because he was so wonderful as a teacher. ASU is definitely going to miss him.” – Carrie (Weaver) Bottoms, Class of 1995 & 1997, Professor of Biology, University of North Texas

Dowler with his Grinnell Award from the American Society of Mammalogists Dowler with his Grinnell Award from the American Society of Mammalogists In addition to his stellar teaching, Dowler has been just as committed to research, mentoring countless student research projects and authoring or co-authoring over 80 of his own research publications in respected scientific journals. He was also quoted in various news and science media nationwide, and he even had some of his photos published in the “Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals.”

“Bob Dowler has had a very productive professional career,” said Dr. Mike Dixon, chair of the Biology Department. “But that success is secondary to who he is as a person. He is known for the care that he shows to students, and he has friends across the U.S. and in many other countries because he cares about people. What we will miss most is having him be a daily part of our lives. Bob is a great academic, but an even better person.”

Fittingly, Dowler’s career has been littered with honors and awards, with perhaps the most impressive being the Joseph Grinnell Award for Excellence in Education in Mammalogy, a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Mammalogists.

“It has been a good run,” Dowler said. “There are ups and downs in any career, but in the big picture, I think it has worked out really well. I’ve been really happy with how things have ended up.”

“There are lots of choices in life. Coming to Angelo State was one of those, and it’s one that worked out great.”