As a boy, Utah State University professor Eugene ‘Geno’ Schupp gained a reputation for showing the top rabbits at the Florida State Fair. A self-described Army brat, he enjoyed raising prolific leporids, along with chickens and cows, tending his family’s vegetable garden and growing daylilies.
At the fair one year, he came across a natural resources career brochure and was thrilled to learn that “someone could be paid to be outside.”
“That was quite a revelation,” says Schupp, who joined USU’s College of Natural Resources faculty in 1992 as a plant population ecologist. “As a child, I spent my time running wild, exploring woods and swamps and collecting interesting specimens. It’s still at the core of my life.”
Schupp shared his professional journey with family and friends Jan. 10 at the USU President’s Home for the sixth talk in the university 2011-12 Inaugural Professor Lecture Series. The series, coordinated by the Provost’s Office, highlights the accomplishments of faculty who have been promoted to full professor in the past year.
Though Schupp was sure of his interests, his initial experience with higher ed was less than satisfying.
“I started undergrad studies at the University of Southern Florida, but dropped out with a 2.38 GPA,” he says.
He embarked instead on a three-year journey of self-discovery: working in a plastic factory, in construction and in a mobile home factory before setting off on a sailboat voyage with a couple of friends. The latter was a fun adventure, he recalls, but “awfully crowded on that little boat.”
Back on land, Schupp returned to USF and was taken under the wing of a faculty mentor who ignited the undergrad’s interest in plant-animal interactions, showed him the value of natural history and introduced him to meaningful research.
Schupp stayed at USF to pursue graduate study in zoology, which afforded him the opportunity to conduct research in Ecuador. After earning a master’s degree, he headed to the University of Iowa for doctoral studies.
“The harsh winter weather was a shock,” he says. “Fortunately, my field research was in Panama.”
After earning a doctorate in tropical ecology, Schupp was off to Spain for a National Science Foundation-NATO postdoctoral fellowship.
“It was a life-changing experience and I met colleagues I continue to work with to this day,” he says. “In ecology and in life, I learned that ‘everything is connected.’”
In Spain, Schupp gained a research interest in semi-arid shrublands. A few years later, the Florida-bred, tropical ecologist found himself answering an ad (which he still has) for a position at USU “where the sagebrush grows.”
“It’s been an ideal fit,” he says. “My work at USU has enabled me to blend basic ecological interests with applications to real-world problems.”
Schupp’s current research includes studies of the American West’s Great Basin. With students, faculty colleagues and land managers, he examines the clash of invasive and rare species. Combining teaching and mentoring duties with research, he says, enhances the experience.
“Teaching and research are synergistic and I’ve found the combination very rewarding,” he says. “My students come up with new, fresh ideas and questions all the time.”
Being involved in research, he says, keeps his teaching interesting.
“Research is also important for learning,” Schupp says. “There’s no substitute for ‘learning by doing’ — that’s a distinct advantage of getting an undergraduate education at a research-intensive university.”
Contact: Eugene “Geno” Schupp, 435-797-2475, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, email@example.com