In a bit of unscientific serendipity during this 50th anniversary year of women at Kenyon, the first course Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Ruth Heindel began teaching in January as the holder of a new endowed professorship created by female donors and named for a female Kenyon professor has eight students, all women.
Heindel is the first faculty member named to the new Dorothy and Thomas Jegla Professorship in the Natural Sciences, created with a gift from Board of Trustees member Diane Elam ’80 and Nancy Donohue.
Heindel said she appreciated holding a position named for the late Professor of Biology Dorothy Jegla P’89 H’97, the first woman to be elevated to a full professorship in the natural sciences at Kenyon and the first woman to be honored with emerita status upon her retirement from Kenyon, and her husband, Professor Emeritus of Biology Thomas Jegla P’89 H’97.
Heindel brings her love of climate change research, scientific writing and art to her teaching. “In many ways, teaching is more motivating for me than being a researcher in the lab, because in teaching you connect with people,” she said. “It’s inspiring to see how another person’s mind works. And it’s my own belief that everyone, no matter what their field, should understand how the Earth works. That strongly motivates me to teach.”
Heindel earned her Ph.D. at Dartmouth College and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research before joining the Kenyon faculty. As evidenced by the engaged students in her “Science of Climate Change” seminar, Heindel notes that today’s students are serious about addressing climate change. “It’s one reason why environmental studies programs are growing. Young people are really passionate about this,” Heindel said. “I was glad to see it in the undergrads at Kenyon when I made my visit. The students were really asking for a climate change course.”
Heindel has studied wind-driven soil erosion in Greenland, skied in Alaska to work with the Juneau Icefield Research Program and taught science to middle and high school students. She draws colored pencil landscapes on her research trips and sells them on Etsy.
“Ruth is a fabulous addition to our faculty, both for the environmental studies program and the sciences more generally,” said Siobhan Fennessy, the Philip and Sheila Jordan Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies. “Her expertise in earth science and climate change will fill a large gap that we currently have in the curriculum.”
After elevating the environmental studies concentration to a major in 2017, the search began for an energetic professor who would get students outside to do research.
“We’re particularly impressed with the range of things [Heindel] can offer in addition to teaching,” Fennessy added. “Her research ranges from field work in Greenland to lab analysis to geographic analysis and modeling. Students will have many options when they participate in research projects under her supervision.”
Heindel won awards for her teaching at Dartmouth and won the Geological Sciences Senior Award during her undergraduate work at Brown University. She also plays cello in the Knox County Symphony.
“We’re delighted with her strengths in the liberal arts: she’s an artist, has taught a class in science writing and is an accomplished cellist,” Fennessy said. “I’m sure she’ll be engaged in many aspects of our campus life.”
“It’s great to come to a place that values me as a whole person,” Heindel said.
Heindel’s interest in adding to Kenyon’s increasing focus on science writing also won applause from the donors whose contributions created the professorship; Elam earned both her master’s degree and Ph.D in English literature from Brown, and Donohue was a writing fellow there. Elam and Donohue are also dedicated supporters of the Kenyon Farm, having recently made a $170,000 commitment to create Farm Fellows — high-impact summer experiences for students at the Farm — as well as a $25,000 gift that launched a dollar-for-dollar matching challenge for Farm operations.
Current and emeriti members of Kenyon’s Board of Trustees have committed $65.5 million to the Our Path Forward campaign. Rose Brintlinger Fealy ’84, one of the campaign tri-chairs, lauded the gift. “Diane and Nancy’s gift helps to fulfill a key goal of the ongoing Our Path Forward campaign: support for endowed professorships,” Fealy said. “But more specifically, it helps keep Kenyon responsive to the interests of today’s students and reinforces our position as a College committed to sustainability and care for the world around us, by educating students who may go on to tackle today’s environmental challenges.”
In the year celebrating half a century since women came to Kenyon, the College has also launched the Kenyon Women’s Scholarship to mark the occasion, as well as a companion initiative, Women & Philanthropy, to elevate and celebrate women’s giving.
More than 16,667 alumni, parents and friends have supported the Our Path Forward campaign with $258 million in gifts and commitments so far.