Visiting Professor of Biology Paul Skrade is hardly an unknown face on campus. When he’s not in the classroom teaching the Sustainability Preceptorial, he’s cheering on any of the Knox sports teams or playing pickleball. Or, he’s playing on a faculty intramural basketball team. A few weeks ago, he was at the Knox Barn Dance with Miriam Skrade, his wife and tennis coach at Knox, and their two nine-year-old twins. On Wednesdays at lunchtime, he’s in the Taylor Student Lounge playing competitive ping pong with other faculty and staff members.
“It’s been pretty wonderful. People complain about not having anything to do, but we always have something to do,” Skrade said, who’s also part of Galesburg’s Parks and Recreation and the Galesburg Area Birdwatching Club.
Before he filled the position as visiting professor, Skrade was Knox’s Interim Director of Sustainability, so Knox students aren’t new to him, either.
“Knox students are bright and they’re interested in so many different things. I would argue sometimes too many different things because they’re also here to be studying and getting an education, but they’re just passionate and that makes it so much easier when you have students who are interested and passionate,” he said.
Skrade is also a Postdoctoral Fellow, currently researching the Cerulean Warbler, a small songbird whose population has been declining, especially in northeast Iowa. It’s the same bird that he studied for his Masters and Ph.D. at Iowa State University.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I get to go camping in northeast Iowa and look for birds, so that’s about as wonderful as it gets,” he said.
Since a young age, Skrade has known he wanted to work in biology. He was born in a little village in southwest Alaska, where he could walk in three directions and “never encounter another human being, but tons of wildlife,” he said.
Instead of neighbors, he had moose, bears and birds in his backyard. His middle school science projects were on rodents and ravens around town. Because his father was a biologist, he was constantly outside.
Skrade initially wanted to be a veterinarian, and got exposure to the field after he moved to Ireland at age 13. But he soon changed his area of interest when he started studying biology and political science as an undergraduate at Luther College.
“It wasn’t my high school chem teacher that I hated. It was chemistry. So I had to go back and apologize to her,” he said.
He liked the bears, moose and wolves, but he loves birds. In his free time, he’s a birder, keeping track of different birds he’s seen in different places.
“When you’re young you get drawn to … bears and moose and wolves and those types of things, but birds are everywhere, and they’re colorful, and for a large part they’re not afraid of people. They’re active during the day … birds are sexy. Birds are cool.”
Skrade attributes a lot of his passions to his experience as an undergraduate studying turtles, studying abroad in the Galapagos and Ireland, doing research and working as a lab instructor.
“It wasn’t just I want to work with wildlife. I want to teach it too,” Skrade said. In the eight years he spent at Iowa State, he taught almost every semester.
He doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be at the end of his year as a visiting professor at Knox, but he knows he wants to be teaching. He also knows he wants to stay in the Midwest.
“The people in the Midwest have kept us here. We love the people, the four seasons Ñ because Ireland is beautiful, but it has a rainy and a less rainy season, and Alaska has winter and not-winter, and that’s sort of how it goes, so I’ve really enjoyed being in an area that has spring, summer, fall and winter, and for a birder it’s like there’s different birds at different times of the year and it’s great.”