Thornton Chair of Biology
Pat Magee arrived at Western 21 years ago to fill the brand-new Thornton Lecturer position.
Magee heard about Western through a colleague who saw a position opening at a small college in the mountains. During Magee’s time at large universities while earning his master’s and Ph.D., he realized the competitive mentality at large institutions wasn’t for him.
“I really wanted to be at a small university in the mountains where undergraduate education was emphasized,” Magee said.
“All those things were what I thought they would be at Western. And then it was even better,” he said. “It was a beautiful place with a small, intimate setting. I get to know my students really well and work closely with them.”
These rural characteristics contributed to more than just the lifestyle Magee wanted. They also allowed him to work closely with colleagues in several wildlife and conservation agencies to support undergraduate fieldwork.
In his position as the Thornton Lecturer, Magee was responsible for integrating experiential science into introductory Biology courses. He immediately took full advantage of this, taking his students out to work on field research for the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife at the Gunnison State Wildlife Area.
Since that first year, Magee has taught a range of courses, including wildlife ecology and management; ornithology; mammalogy; Colorado ecoregions; diversity and patterns of life; ecology; and scientific writing. Along the way, he has worked with nearly 40 undergraduates through the Thornton Biology Undergraduate Research Program on their own research projects.
“I started doing research with students right away when I got here,” he said. “It’s really master’s level research many of them are doing.”
Those research projects generally focus on location-specific topics such as the vulnerability of Gunnison sage grouse to human-created noise, and the effects on birds of thinning and masticating piñon and juniper trees to reduce forest fire risk. Magee and his students have also conducted research on local red foxes since 2006.
As the current Thornton Chair—a position he has held from 2005 to 2017—Magee has been able to establish a framework that allows these research projects to be approached with the longevity and attention necessary for strong, credible research worthy of publication.
“The Thornton Biology Research Program is just amazing. It gives students opportunities to do undergraduate research, more than they could have at almost any other place,” he said.