Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Kristopher Wright

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April 13, 2018

More than 16 years ago, Dr. Kristopher Wright moved back to the Midwest from Oregon to pursue what he would consider his “dream job.” After looking for an opportunity in freshwater biology that was also focused on teaching, he accepted a position as a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2001. Since then, Wright has led numerous research projects in stream ecology and also supervises the student internship program with the Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which began in 2004.

Wright earned a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison, and a master’s and doctorate from Oregon State University.

What is something you would like people to know about UW-Platteville’s biology department?

First and foremost, I think that there is a genuine respect for each other and for our students. When we have done exit interviews, the number one thing students commented on was how connected they felt within the department. I don’t think you get that everywhere. And although I think it’s a hard thing to market or advertise, I think it’s one of the most important things about our department.

Sure, there are other things to mention – like the amount of projects we do and the breadth of our classes – that are also important, but I think what it really boils down to is the unique connection and relationship that we have with each other and our students.

What impresses you the most about your students?

A lot of things impress me about my students. It’s hard not to acknowledge the general work ethic that students have in this area. When given a challenge or opportunity to do something outside of the normal classroom activity, they are all over it. They want to solve problems, and when given the opportunity, they do a really exceptional job. 

What is your favorite part about teaching?

I love the light bulb moment when a student all of the sudden connects things that they have never connected before. Those moments are priceless. I just like engaging with students and seeing how they develop over time. I think there are many of us who look back at our careers and recognize the teachers who had a big impact on us, and I think we all hope that we can become one of those for somebody else.

I also love to geek out on the stuff that I’m interested in. I get to do that regularly in this position, and I think that’s really cool. But I still think it boils down to the students and the special connections that are made.

If you weren’t teaching, what could you see yourself doing?

I think I could do a lot of things and be pretty happy. It would be fun to be an actor – I could see that. I could also see myself being a cook or a chef. That would be fun. I would probably be something like a wildlife tour guide and give whale watches or snorkeling tours. If given the opportunity, I would probably snorkel 24 hours a day.

You recently starred in a promotional video that showcased UW-Platteville’s biology program in a new and innovative way. Why did you —and other faculty members in the department— decide to approach the video in this way?

We asked ourselves, “How do we show people who we are without saying the same thing everybody else is saying?” One thing that we wanted to do was to use modern technology. We had to have something that high school students would have access to. It had to be something that would keep their attention, and I think if you watch some promotional videos from other institutions, they can be rather boring.

The other thing that was really important is that there needed to be an aspect of humor because that’s who we are. We are not a very formal, tight-collared group. We are relatively casual and fun loving, and this video was an attempt to try to show that and separate ourselves out from other biology programs.

Interview conducted by Amanda Bertolozzi, Writer/Editor, Communications. To nominate someone who is digging in and making an impact at UW-Platteville, email pr@uwplatt.edu.

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