Kevin Alexander has called the Gunnison Valley home for nearly two decades. He was hired at Western as a Biology professor in 2000 and immediately started working with undergraduates in the Thornton Biology Research Program.
Since then, Alexander—a wildlife and ecology specialist— has pursued his professional and personal interests almost exclusively in the wilderness surrounding campus.
“My world has shrunk a lot,” Alexander said.
Thornton enables Alexander to balance his teaching schedule with student-centered research. This gives him time to help students take their theoretical lessons from class and apply them to practical situations in the field.
“Employers want people with practical experience,” Alexander said. “We can really deliver that here.”
Agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management have regional offices in the valley and employ many researchers who lead projects similar to those of Alexander’s students. Mountaineers often use Thornton funds to gain momentum for their projects and then later get support from these agencies to pursue their research on a larger scale.
“There’s a lot of really awesome people working [on wildlife and ecology research] in the area,” Alexander said. “It’s an excellent professional network.”
In Alexander’s time here, he’s helped students conduct research in every nook and cranny of the region—from endangered butterflies in the San Juan Mountains to stoneflies in the Black Canyon and salmon in the East River. Working closely with students on what he loves in an awe-inspiring backyard laboratory has given him a quality of life above all.
“I can think back on every one of those students and every one of their projects and how enriching it was, for both them and me,” Alexander said.