Dr. Burkhart adds variety to ULV

Dr. Jeff Burkhart, 54, taught for 12 years at Phillips University in Oklahoma before the university closed due to financial reasons. He was recently hired as an instructor in the Biology Department at the University of La Verne, which he calls "the perfect job." Dr. Burkhart is organizing a two-week January trip to Belize, Central America, to guide students in studying ecology in the rain forest and on a coral reef island. / photo by Matt Wright
Dr. Jeff Burkhart, 54, taught for 12 years at Phillips University in Oklahoma before the university closed due to financial reasons. He was recently hired as an instructor in the Biology Department at the University of La Verne, which he calls “the perfect job.” Dr. Burkhart is organizing a two-week January trip to Belize, Central America, to guide students in studying ecology in the rain forest and on a coral reef island. / photo by Matt Wright

by Jason Cooper
Staff Writer

Sam Cooke once sang “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology. Don’t know much about science books, don’t know much about the French I took.”

But there is someone who can help with that biology part.

The Natural Sciences Department has a new instructor, Dr. Jeff Burkhart, who was hired at the University of La Verne through the Fletcher Jones Endowment Fund.

Dr. Burkhart was born in Chatsworth, Calif. At an early age he developed an interest in biology.

“As a boy I was an active Boy Scout,” said Dr. Burkhart.

“This allowed me to interact with nature and the versatile environment California has to offer.”

Dr. Burkhart’s interest developed into a hobby very quickly. He quite often collected specimens and scrutinized plants and animals.

“Seeing how organisms react in their environment is very interesting and stimulating to me,” said Dr. Burkhart.

In high school, Dr. Burkhart not only continued his biological hobby but also expanded his interests to gymnastics.

As a gymnast he participated on the school’s tumbling team and continued to do so through college.

“I did it for fun and exhibition,” said Dr. Burkhart.

His days as a gymnast did not come without consequence as he suffered from both a broken foot and an ankle for his efforts.

After graduating from high school Dr. Burkhart moved North to Humbolt State University in pursuit of his biological interests.

At Humbolt, Dr. Burkhart focused his studies on marine biology.

“As a child, the sea shore always interested me,” he said. “Marine life is so diverse.”

During his senior year, a field study in the deserts of the Southwest introduced him to a new passion — desert biology.

In pursuit of his new area of biological interest he would travel to Arizona State University and complete his doctoral studies in desert biology and ecology.

Dr. Burkhart’s career in biology never let him get far from academia.

“I’m lucky in that I can pursue my hobby as a profession,” he said.

After completing his doctoral studies at Arizona State he moved to Kansas to teach at St. Mary of the Plains College for 10 years.

From Kansas Dr. Burkhart, his wife and his two sons moved to Oklahoma where he taught at Phillips University for 12 years.

The University had to close down due to financial problems and Dr. Burkhart moved back to Arizona and taught at Phoenix Community College.

“I did not like teaching at a community college,” said Dr. Burkhart.

“Most of the students carried a high school mentality with them, and bureaucracy in the departments didn’t allow for any support or opportunity.”

Opportunity is what led Dr. Burkhart to La Verne.

“This is the best job I have had,” said Dr. Burkhart.

“This school offers prestige and opportunity. I have only been here a semester and I am going to be able to take a group of students to Central America.”

During the January Interterm Dr. Burkhart will be taking a group of interested students from his Biology 201 class and any other interested students to Belize. The trip will entail a week of field study in a rain forest and one week on a coral reef.

This will not be Dr. Burkhart’s first visit to Central America. He has previously completed a field study in the rain forests of Costa Rica.

“Any kind of field experience is valuable,” Dr. Burkhart said.

It is stimulating to meet new people and experience different cultures. An anthropological approach is as important as biology on these field studies.”

Although he teaches biology in La Verne, Dr. Burkhart’s has various interests.

While at ULV, he hopes to contribute to the development of the field station in Drummond, Mont., where the University conducts biological research.

Dr. Burkhart also enjoys fishing and playing volleyball although as of late his legs have not allowed him to do so.

His greatest passion besides biology might be his interest and extensive collection of antiquarian books.

Dr. Burkhart has in his possession first edition books by such authors and Herman Melville and Jack London. Of these aged books his favorites are natural history references.

Dr. Burkhart hopes that his career at La Verne will resemble many of his books, educational and long lasting.

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