Students in Roger Haro’s Freshwater Invertebrate Zoology class get their hands wet on the very first day of the semester when he brings in aquatic insects. After a few days, they head to their outdoor classroom: the nearby La Crosse River Marsh.
Those real-life classroom experiences are the hallmark of Haro’s teaching. They’re just one reason the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Biology Professor has been named the 2015 Wisconsin Professor of the Year.
The recognition comes from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Haro was selected from nearly 400 nominated top professors in the U.S. Recipients were honored in a Washington, D.C., ceremony Nov. 19.
That recognition marked the fourth time in the past five years that UWL professors have earned top state honors. The others were History Professor Greg Wegner in 2011, History Professor Victor M. Macías-González in 2013, and Biology Professor Scott Cooper in 2014.
Haro’s philosophy of experiential learning stretches across the 10,400-plus student campus, thanks to his work on redesigning general biology curriculum. In 2000, he and two other colleagues added visits to an urban marsh near campus. Heading out of the classroom, students get to experience unique ecosystems with rare wetland birds, invertebrates and plants.
“It’s important to get students out of the classroom so they can problem solve in real-life situations,” Haro explains.
Along with making classes more interesting, Haro says the on-site experiences provide students a much deeper, conceptual understanding. Both are key in helping to attract and retain students, especially students of color and those with limited access to higher education.
Haro knows how to reach those students — he was one of them. As a Mexican-American, he was a first-generation college student from a historically under-represented group.
When he started his career, Haro met few scientists with Latino and Latina backgrounds. That fueled his ambition to work with under-represented college students. He does that by directing programs that target helping these two groups: First Year Research Exposure (F.Y.R.E.) and the McNair Scholars Program.
Twenty years at UWL, he remains excited about doing that. “This is still my dream job,” he says. “I’m fed by the students’ enthusiasm for learning.”
Haro enjoys the collegiality among faculty on campus that opens the door for innovation. “If we work collaboratively, we can do things that need to be done to help students be successful,” he explains. “I’m not afraid of taking on risks.”
That’s one of the reasons UWL professors have received the state’s Professor of the Year award four of the past five years. “We like to interact with our colleagues and we work together,” Haro notes. “That’s a real value and a great power at UWL.”
The Roger Haro file —
- UWL faculty member since 1996.
- Currently professor of biology, specializes in studying freshwater ecosystems; part of the faculty team that redesigned general biology curriculum.
- Assistant director of UWL’s River Studies Center.
- Director of the First Year Research Exposure (F.Y.R.E.) and the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Scholars Program; more than 25 years experience working with and developing programs for under-represented students in STEM fields.
- 2014 UW System Board of Regents Diversity Award for Individuals.
- Specialty areas: aquatic entomology, river ecology, mercury transport in freshwater foodwebs; landscape ecology of watersheds.
- Education: bachelor of science in fisheries biology, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, 1984; master of science in entomology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, 1988; doctorate in natural resources and environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1994.