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NMSU biology professor retires after 23 years, plans next adventure

A couple of weeks ago, professor Ralph Preszler retired from New Mexico State University. Now, the former biology department head is off the grid.


Man in green cap and blue sweater.
Ralph Preszler retired last month after 23 years of service to NMSU?s Department of Biology. (Courtesy photo)
Group photo in front of tan building.
NMSU biology department members gathered for a group portrait outside Foster Hall earlier this month, in recognition of Ralph Preszler?s 23 years of service to the department. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

?It?s another adventure,? he said of his retirement. Since the start of April, Preszler has swam in the Gila River, camped in the Guadalupe Mountains and made plans to brush up on his Spanish for a future trip to Patagonia.

With more than two decades of service to the College of Arts and Sciences, Preszler watched the biology department evolve from blackboards and handwritten reports, to interactive ?flipped? classrooms and lectures held in professional-level research facilities.

?I think the way we teach is much more engaging now, than it was when I started out,? Preszler said.

As a longtime director of NMSU?s Howard Hughes Medical Institute ? a nationally recognized program providing biological and medical research funding ? Preszler introduced the department to curriculum reforms for lower level biology courses, and paved the way for peer instruction and faculty-mentored undergraduate research.

?What I admired so much about Ralph was his teaching and commitment to undergraduate education. He?s an incredibly creative teacher,? said Michele Shuster, associate professor of biology and current NMSU-HHMI program director.

?If it wasn?t for Ralph and his openness to thinking about different ways of teaching, we wouldn?t be where we?re at with our undergraduates right now.?

Preszler also served as mentor for students like Chiann-Ling Cindy Yeh, an NMSU-HHMI research scholar and senior genetics and biotechnology major.

?He helped me with not only my undergraduate thesis, but also in applying for national scholarships and writing recommendations,? Yeh said. ?He offered really great advice, and I don?t think I would be here today without him.?

In 2015, Yeh was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a highly competitive national award that supports outstanding students in the fields of math, science or engineering. This fall, she will begin graduate school at the University of Washington?s Department of Genome Sciences.

Preszler said some of his favorite memories of his time at NMSU include seeing undergraduates mature into nationally competitive researchers.

He began his work improving undergraduate education in 1993 as a postdoctoral researcher studying plant and insect ecology, joining the NMSU biology department fresh from graduate school at Northern Arizona University. When his funding ended, he accepted a staff position in the department to design new teaching laboratories for students.

?I ended up enjoying that quite a lot,? Preszler said. ?After about seven years, the department opened a tenure track faculty line to hire someone who would conduct research in science education, rather than in biology directly, so I applied for that position and got hired as a tenure track faculty.?

Nearly 20 years after joining NMSU as a postdoctoral researcher, Preszler was appointed as academic head of the Department of Biology, a position he held for four years until his retirement March 31.

?I?ve worked very closely with Ralph over the last few years,? said Angus Dawe, associate professor of biology and interim department head. ?He has always been a particularly sincere and generous individual to work with.?

In recognition of Preszler's 23 years of service to the biology department, dozens of faculty, staff and students gathered on the steps of Foster Hall for a group photo earlier this month.

?I think it?s rare to have a job that you find interesting,? Preszler said of his time at NMSU. ?There are certainly parts of it that are just plain work, but there?s a lot of it that?s quite fulfilling. I?d like to thank the people at NMSU for giving me this opportunity ? it?s been great.?