Dr. David W. Tonkyn

Population ecology

Clemson University




I have taught almost every kind of course offered at Clemson University except for online courses, and to different kinds of students.  My main assignment has been the large, upper-level lecture/lab course in ecology.  This is taken mainly by students of biology, but also of other life sciences, engineering, and the humanities.  I move systematically through the major themes –of individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems, emphasizing broad principles rather than details.  I am cognizant that a few students will need a solid grounding in ecology while the rest will never take another course on the subject, and I feel a responsibility to both groups.  To meet this, I try to make the material interesting, challenging, linked to other courses, and to their lives.  For example, when I talk about parasites, I talk first about the common biochemistry of life which makes that lifestyle so common, and then about the origin, epidemiology and control of infectious diseases, and their relation to history and public health. 


I have taught other lecture courses for majors (Biogeography) and non-majors (Intro to Environmental Science), as well as seminar courses for both groups (Senior Seminar, Biology in the News).  I have taught various graduate courses (Population, Community, and Conservation Biology, Modeling in Behavior, Ecology of Infectious Diseases, Ecology for Teachers), some of which could be offered for undergraduates.  I developed and taught a Rocky Mountain Field Ecology (14 times), and an international course for non-majors on Biodiversity and Conservation in India (10 times, with side trips to Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka).  I am a strong proponent of such experiences, and every year students say that these travel courses changed their lives.  


Finally, I have taught Creative Inquiry courses in which teams of students, often from different majors, collaborate on a project often for several semesters.  One of my CI teams helped a graduate student document the shrinking range of a now-threatened butterfly, with several papers published and more in development.  Another team compiled multiple data sets in a study of factors influencing extinction risks in all species of birds, and one of the students involved, Larua Coggins, extended it for her MS thesis at the College of Charleston. My third CI team worked for two years to contact all the tiger mascot schools in the country and ultimately formed the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition (www.t4tcoalition.org), and hosted it's first summit at Clemson in April, 2013.  I now have two CI teams per semester working on various tiger conservation projects in support of our university and national T4T organizations.  This model of team-based work is excellent for all sorts of student engagement and research.






Ecology Laboratory


Biodiversity and Conservation in India


Rocky Mountain Field Ecology


Creative Inquiry class on Tiger Conservation





In addition to developing unique travel courses in the Rocky Mountains and India, I have broad experience in curriculum development.  In 1999, I served on a college-wide committee that designed a BS in Environment and Natural Resources with concentrations in conservation biology, natural resource and economic policy, and natural resource management.  In 2008, I served on a joint committee with the College of Engineering and Sciences that designed a new BS in Environmental Engineering.  Both programs are successful.  In 2010, the Graduate Dean asked that I design an online MS in Biosphere Systems around courses and faculty in the Colleges of Engineering and Sciences and of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.  I did so but the effort stalled when the Dean left for another university.  Throughout my career, I have been engaged in curriculum reforms in my own department, primarily to provide more flexibility to students to follow their interests.


In the fall of 2011 I was asked by the President to serve on the university-wide Quality Enhancement Plan Steering Committee, to prepare for the 2013 Reaffirmation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  SACS required that we identify an area in which our students could do better, and design a program with measurable outcomes to address this need.  While “enhancement” sounds bureaucratic and incremental, the President saw this as an opportunity to transform the undergraduate experience, which future histories of the university would note.  We solicited proposals from students and faculty and ultimately focused on critical thinking, a documented weakness of students at Clemson (and virtually everywhere else)./  We designed a program of sophomore-level, seminar classes that emphasized careful reading, discussion and writing, to develop critical thinking skills that would serve them through college and beyond.  The faculty, in turn, would be trained to teach such skills, and incorporate them into their other courses too.  The program is flexible, given constraints on faculty time and departmental resources, and seminars can be new ones or repurposed general education or majors courses.  The plan was approved by the Trustees and SACS, has a full-time director and offered faculty training for the past two summers.  I serve on the CT Steering Committee and taught my first Critical Thinking seminar this spring.   






"Having a family intellectual available, I can always arrange to have words like "holistic" or "heuristics" translated if it should prove absolutely necessary - if they turn up on a road sign for instance, or on a menu or on a visa application."

                                            - Calvin Trillin in "Uncivil Liberties" about his wife




"If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better."

                                        - Johan Cruyff, legendary Dutch soccer player


“Oh yes, you have learned men who collect…facts and facts, and empires of facts.  But which of them will rekindle the light within?”

                                      - E. M. Forster in "Howard's End", on British universities




“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”       - Joseph Pulitzer            


“Keep your words few and seasoned with grace.”   

                                     - June Sprigg, "Simple gifts: A memoir of a Shaker village"


“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” 

                                     - Elmore Leonard, "Writers on writing; Easy on the adverbs,

                                       exclamation points and especially hooptedoodle”


"In writing, you must kill all your darlings,"      

                                      - William Faulkner


"Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole"  (Really!)

                                      - Evelyn Waugh, in "Scoop"




“Do not all charms fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy? …. Philosophy will clip an angel's wings, conquer all mysteries by rule and line, empty the haunted air, and gnome mine unweave a rainbow.”

                                         - John Keats, English romantic poet, 1795-1821


"Art is the tree of life.  Science is the tree of death."

                                          - William Blake, English poet and artist


"I think ... nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty."

                                         - Richard Fenyman, Nobel-prize winning physicist


“Science is the most exciting and sustained enterprise of discovery in the history of our species.  It is the great adventure of our time.”

                                         -  Michael Crichton, Author, from Science 5 Mar 1999




“Man has always found it easier to sacrifice his life than to learn the multiplication table.”

                                         - Somerset Maugham, in “Mr. Harrington’s Washing”


“A thousand stories which the ignorant tell, and believe, die away at once when the computist takes them in his grip.”

                                           - Samuel Johnson