Focus on Faculty
Meigs Professor of Ecology Jim Porter wants his students to learn about serious environmental problems and realize the importance of solving them.
Where did you earn degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received both my bachelors and Ph.D. from Yale. Currently, I am Meigs Professor of Ecology. After taking my turn, I stepped down recently as associate dean for academic affairs in the Odum School of Ecology.
When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
I was recruited to UGA in 1977 from the University of Michigan by Gene Odum. Georgia’s reputation in ecology was, and remains, outstanding. In addition, as a marine scientist, it was also attractive that Georgia had an ocean!
What are your favorite courses, and why?
I teach Ecology 1000 to more than 350 students. It is my favorite course because it allows me to teach about solving environmental problems. It allows me to place scientific facts in policy contexts. Environmental issues will be the central organizing principles of the 21st century, and Georgia students (both undergraduate and graduate) will be in leadership positions to address them. As environmental problems mount rapidly (just think about last year’s weather extremes), course content changes. This evolution keeps the course fresh for both the students and me.
What interests you about your field?
I live my professional life underwater. The beauty of the underwater world inspires me. My research has always focused on coral reef ecology but now includes a major emphasis on the ecology of infectious disease. With strong programs in microbiology, veterinary medicine, public health, genetics and now the new med school, research at Georgia defines the newly emerging field of disease ecology. We are blurring the distinction between human health and environmental health. It is fun to be part of this.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have received the university’s outstanding research award (the Creative Research Medal) and the university’s highest teaching award (the Meigs Professorship). Georgia has also been a successful and supportive platform from which I have been able to contribute on the international stage (as the elected president of Sigma Xi) and to testify both to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations on environmental issues.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
For me, these two activities are indistinguishable. There are very few universal rules of good teaching, but one of them is this: “It’s not about you.” Whether you work for the advancement of your academic field or the advancement of your students, your greatest accomplishments are for future generations.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope my students learn (1) how serious environmental problems are, and (2) how important it is for them to start solving them.
Describe your ideal student.
An ideal student will think outside the box, but will take up boxing when fools try to suppress the truth.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
The UGA Performing Arts Center has jumped into warp speed in the last several years. As a student, I was always involved in musical activities. The best music in Athens is not just at the 40 Watt any more. I must also admit that the Ecology Building has created a first-rate teaching and learning environment.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Travel. For an ecologist, that sounds like a busman’s holiday, but the beauty of the natural world never stops fascinating me. I rarely go anywhere without my camera. UGA Costa Rica is simply amazing! You have a top-rated visitor’s facility nestled in the middle of a tropical rainforest. It is simply an amazing place.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I use my talents as a public speaker to stir the pot here in Athens and beyond. I am a member of the Unitarian Fellowship of Athens, which advances several important community and civic causes.
As a rare book collector, I enjoyed The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. And as a butterfly collector, I enjoyed Obsession. I have seen the movie The Day After Tomorrow several times. I love the part where the scientist takes the vice president of the United States to task for his environmental policies!
Proudest moment at UGA?
The Meigs Professorship is an award for both accomplishments and values; winning this was an honor.