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Meet David Lentz

Whatever the season, there's a great view as well as a lesson to be learned at the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies.

Date: 6/13/2007
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Whatever the season, there's a great view as well as a lesson to be learned at the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies. And part of that lesson is a message: There's no better time than now to promote science education, says David Lentz, CCFS' executive director.

Lentz clearly sees the creation of the new field station as an attractive resource for aspiring scientists and as a positive step in creating a more versatile science program at UC.

His passion for his work, in no small part, stems from his dedication to finding better ways to teach science. The field station offers an opportunity to use his skills to help create an institution that can have an impact on that conversation, while providing educational opportunities for undergraduates.

"It's so vital that we do things like this now," he says. "A huge number of people drop out of science they start out in science as freshmen, but then transfer after a year or two. It's not just because science is difficult; it's just not engaging enough at the undergraduate level. The interesting part of science is the research: learning how to solve problems and test hypotheses. This country needs more scientists and it is in everyone's best interest to get more students excited about the kinds of challenges science can offer."

David Lentz
Biologist David Lentz came to UC in 2006 to serve as executive director of the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies.

At the Center for Field Studies, students get immediate opportunities to gain hands-on experience with research problems in the natural world. Individual and collaborative research activities are encouraged at every level even for undergraduates, it's a chance for basic research opportunities and to "actually begin field studies and see it as a part of their curriculum," Lentz explains.

A Pittsburgh native, he earned his PhD in biology at the University of Alabama. He joined the UC faculty in fall 2006, after four years at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where he served as vice president for scientific affairs and senior scientist.

His past positions include nine years at the New York Botanical Garden's Institute of Economic Botany, where he served as director of graduate studies. From 1984 to 1993, Lentz was director of the Electron Microscopy Facility at University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he was an associate professor. Other past teaching posts included Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University, Yale University and New York University.

Objectives cited for CCFS include:
Conducting research on natural ecosystems in a changing landscape
Providing field-oriented educational activities in the form of formal academic classes, informal workshops and training programs
Communicating science to the public and engage non-scientists in scientific study.
Facilitating interaction between a variety of disciplines related to the environment  and serving as a regional center for scientific exchange and informed discussion of environmental issues.

Scientists at the center, led administratively by McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, represent a truly interdisciplinary effort, with involvement from the departments of biology, geology, anthropology, geography and environmental sciences. Support has come from every level of college and university life.

"Scientists from all of these departments have embraced the concept," Lentz says. "I've visited some other field stations and everyone says: The key to success in developing a field station is faculty involvement. Sandra Degan (UC Vice President of Research) is behind us in a big way; the dean of Arts & Sciences has made this an important project and their support is crucial."

The recipient of an impressive series of external grant awards over the years, Lentz's recent accomplishments include a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with Dr. Cynthia Robin of Northwestern University. The grant is entitled "The Chan site: A 2000 year history of an ancient Maya farming community" and it focuses on the land-use practices and plant subsistence activities of a past culture that experienced numerous environmental and cultural upheavals.

"We'll have money coming into the lab, largely to support students and analyze plant materials from archaeological sites in Belize," says Lentz, who, as a Fulbright Scholar in Honduras, gathered medicinal plant data from extant indigenous plant cultures. His transition to UC, and to life in the Queen City, has been smooth, Lentz concludes. "It has been wonderful the university and the folks in Cincinnati have just been terrific, very kind, to me and my wife," he says. "We're really delighted."

He's stepping right into hot-button issues facing the community, too, joining forces with several other UC professors in SPEEC Scientists Promoting Evolution Education in Cincinnati. SPEEC members hope to further evolution education in area schools and with local groups.

He is especially concerned about the possible impact of the newly opened Creation Museum in Petersburg. The $27 million facility, where it is shared that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and the Grand Canyon could have been sliced by the waters of Noah's flood, is "really a source of misinformation for the youth of America," Lentz says.

"Americans are in competition with people throughout the world," he says. "And we have to do everything we can to educate students in science, engineering and math or we're not going to compete as a nation."

Get details on the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies.

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