The following article appeared in this morning's issue of The Crimson White - Online, a publication from the University of Alabama.
Biology instructor gives unique lessons to students
By Brett Bralley
February 16, 2007
Biology instructor Robert Burckhalter has been to all 50 states in the country and all but 78 counties. The U.S. map on the wall of his office has dark lines and curves all over it, outlining every road he's ever traveled.
"You will never meet anyone who has seen more in the United States than me," Burckhalter said.
Burckhalter teaches introduction-level biology courses at the University, and every summer he travels the United States studying plants and making collections. Visiting every county in the United States is a goal he set in high school, Burckhalter said.
Burckhalter teaches Biology 116 and Biology 108, which is a class for nonmajors. He has been teaching at the University for the past four years.
"I'm always casually dressed," he said. "And I ride a bicycle."
Burckhalter said he has taught around 14,000 students throughout his career, and he enjoys seeing them outside of class. He said he tries to keep his classes entertaining.
"Teaching and being around students helps me feel younger and more energized," Burckhalter said.
All of Burckhalter's traveling and in-depth knowledge makes his classes interesting, some students said.
Trey Velleggia, a sophomore majoring in business administration and Spanish, took Biology 108 with Burckhalter.
"I enjoyed when he would share personal stories of his explorations and different places he has been," Velleggia said. "He's very entertaining and realistic."
Beth Lester, a freshman with an undecided major, took Biology 116 and said she enjoyed learning Burckhalter's interesting facts that went beyond what was in the textbook.
"He talked about 'watermelon snow,'" Lester said. "It's a type of algae that when it's on snow it tastes like watermelon. But it's toxic so you can only taste it and spit it out. How unfortunate."
Burckhalter received his bachelor's degree at the University of Colorado and came to the University to earn his master's degree in 1985 and his Ph.D. in 1990.
"There is incredible research going on here," Burckhalter said. "In all my traveling, Alabama has the friendliest people I have ever met."
Writing a book is another undertaking Burckhalter has accomplished. From "St. Augustine to Bellingham" is a detailed route from St. Augustine, Fla., to Bellingham, Wash., that is completely rural and goes through no major cities. Altogether, the route has only 201 traffic lights. It ends at the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Bellingham Bay.
The book has been published by the UA Cartographic Laboratory, but Burckhalter would like to find another publisher, renaming the book "The Most Rural Route Across America," he said. The new version would also contain more photos and narrations, he said.
Burckhalter said his draw toward plant biology stemmed from his travels. "I was traveling and I saw plants and I wondered if I could eat those things if I had to," he said. "I started to learn on my own.
"The more I learn the more I realize how little I really know. It scares the heck out of me," he said.
Here is the link to The Crimson White - Online: http://www.cw.ua.edu/vnews/display.v/ART/2007/02/16/45d563385380f