Professor motivated to teach while getting master’s in forestry


Dr. Quinn, professor of biology and computer science at St. Edward’s University, has been teaching here since 1983.

His colleagues describe him as a sweet man who loves to teach. Meanwhile, his students describe him as funny, intelligent and passionate. Whenever his name is mentioned, people are sure to talk about his obvious passion for his subject, apparent by his tendency to show great enthusiasm during lectures.

His name is William J. Quinn, professor of biology and computer science at St. Edward’s University where he has been teaching since 1983.

Growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Quinn spent much of his childhood outdoors.

“It was kind of a rural suburb so I spent most of my day down by the creek… catching aquatic animals, looking at planes, getting poison ivy,” said Quinn.

Although Quinn does not recall his dream job as a child, he does recall that as a college freshman at Colorado State University, he wanted to become a forest ranger.

After obtaining a Bachelors of Science in Forest and Range Management, Quinn and his wife moved to Austin, Texas so his wife could finish her degree. While living in Austin, Quinn worked as a gardener.

Once his wife finished her degree, the couple moved to Utah where he worked for the Bureau of Land Management. In the two years Quinn worked there, he and his team were responsible for managing all the activities that occurred within the million acres of federal land they had been assigned.

“We helped people get permits to raise cattle and sheep,” Quinn said. “We helped people get permits to dig for minerals, to cut down Christmas trees when they wanted to go get a Christmas tree (and) we regulated the water (and) the wildlife on it.”

His first year at the BLM allowed Quinn to spend around four days a week out in the field. However, in the second year, his outings were much more limited and he mostly spent his time doing paperwork. After some time, Quinn noticed that the people who got to spend time in the field were mostly people who had master’s degrees.

So in 1976, Quinn went back to school. He attended North Carolina State University, where he studied for a Master in Forestry.

“When I was in graduate school, I didn’t want to be a professor at all,” Quinn said. “I was in graduate school so I could be a scientist, but a research scientist, not at a teaching institution. But I was required to teach. That converted me.”

After graduating with his master’s in forestry, Quinn sought a doctorate in the same subject in order to obtain the appropriate credentials to teach at a university. He finished his education in 1982.

In 1983, Quinn began teaching at St. Edward’s. At the time, he taught computer science classes. Eventually he began teaching natural sciences as well.

“I just love the whole environment where people are studying and learning. Dedicated to knowing more – its a great feeling,” Quinn said.

Outside the classroom, Quinn developed a passion for bicycle riding. Four years after he started teaching at St. Edward’s, he rode his bike with a former student to raise money for cancer from western Idaho to the American Cancer Society in Joplin, Missouri.

“We did it in early summer, so we timed it so the wind would be mostly at our backs – that makes a difference when you go up,” Quinn said. “Going up and down mountains is nothing particularly hard, riding into the wind is very hard. So we watched the weather, that made it pretty easy. We just knew we had to be back in Joplin by a certain date, so we’d just go about a hundred miles every day.”

Over the last 32 years, Quinn has become a beloved professor at St. Edward’s and his love for teaching has allowed him to gain a reputation as an exceptional professor. Anybody who has ever had a class with him would know this.

Gaby Dena, a freshman biology major, said that she was definitely looking forward to having him in future classes now that she has taken biology lab with him.

“When he teaches you he’s very enthusiastic about what he teaches, that it makes you want to learn more about him (and) be just as interested as he is in biology,” Dena said. “One time to demonstrate mules, he got on all fours and acted like a donkey. And then one time he made us spin around in class to demonstrate what a cell wall is like.”

Interestingly enough, it seems students are not the only ones learning from him. His fellow professors seem to enjoy his company and learn from him just as much.

Mary Rist, professor of English writing and rhetoric, began working closely with Quinn in 2000 when she asked him to become a freshman studies lecturer where he worked with religious studies Professor Ed Shirley to develop the science and theology class.

“Bill is just a great person,” Rist said. “He’s generous and open. He can get anyone in any room to talk to him; as an instructor, he always knows his students very personally.”

Rist also taught with Quinn in Angers, France, where he had taught before and proved to be a valuable resource for Rist.

“He is a scientist who loves what he does and wants everyone in his classes to share some of his joy and wonder at the biological world,” Rist said. “When we toured vineyards in France, he had the students pick up dirt from each place to feel the difference in the soils, a difference we could taste in each of the wines.”

Although the St. Edward’s community continues to praise Quinn’s teaching abilities, he gives all the credit to his students.

“What I do is I stand around and get prepared to be in a classroom and just let really talented students do what they do,” Quinn said. “I don’t do much… I show up and the the students do it.

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