George “Skip” Wittler
- Ph.D., University of Texas
- M.A., University of Montana
- B.A., Carleton College
I have two professional passions, teaching and research; both revolve around aquatic ecology and invertebrates. While I have retired from formal teaching, that calling continues after a fashion. For the past eight years I have been active in the Green Lake Association, whose singular focus is on improving water quality in Green Lake (WI). However, I am still an active researcher, specifically with rotifers. These tiny (≤2 mm), invertebrates play vital roles as consumers, scavengers, and predators, eventually falling prey to insects and fish. Thus, their energy and nutrients pass up the food chain. Rotifers may be found anywhere liquid water is present for even a few days. While some inhabit near-shore marine waters, most rotifers are commonly found in inland waters, including lakes, ponds, streams, ephemeral desert basins, irrigation ditches, tire tracks, glacial meltwaters, and the water film of soils and plants. My research has included many of those habitats, but recently it has focused on deserts. Aquatic life there is caught between a duality: wet now and evaporating, soon to be dry for an indeterminate time, but to be wet again.
During the wet phase, rotifers and other invertebrates must prepare for inevitable drought by producing resting stages that withstand prolonged dryness. Deserts are also windy places and when storms sweep across the landscape they kick up dust from the dry basins and can transport resting stages long distances. We are interested in who survives transport and whether they can successfully colonize a new basin.
I am a developmental biologist interested in how cartilage cells get their shape. My lab studies this using zebrafish as a model system for human facial birth defects. I teach Introductory Biology, Scientific Writing and Communication, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, and Cancer Biology.
I joined the faculty as an avian ecologist in 2006. My education started in Brooklyn, New York reading Ranger Rick, watching urban wildlife, and learning about the outdoors as a Girl Scout. I landed in Wisconsin after earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago (B.A. Biology 1992), a doctorate at Virginia Tech (Ph.D. 1999), and a post-doctoral position at Princeton University. As an undergraduate, courses in Field Ecology and Animal Behavior introduced me to the wonderful world of birds and I haven’t gotten bored yet.
At Ripon my students and I study the behavior and ecology of a local population of Eastern Bluebirds. Since 2007, we have individually color-marked adult and nestling bluebirds and tracked their histories of movement and reproduction. My students have examined the impact of mealworm supplementation on nestling growth rates, double brooding, and overwintering behavior. These students have presented their work at undergraduate research symposia held by Sigma Xi and Beta Beta Beta, national science and biological honor societies. My current research interests include a study of the movement of overwintering bluebirds at feeders in Ripon, and the efficacy of wren guards in preventing House Wren predation on bluebird nests.
At Ripon I teach Vertebrate Zoology, Biology of Birds, Animal Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, Scientific Writing, Environmental Studies, and Catalyst 120. I also take students on In Focus courses on Conservation and Biodiveristy in Costa Rica.
I have been a faculty member at Ripon since 2008 and I love my job. I am interested in molecular biology and virology. My research students and I study the mechanics of how RNA is synthesized in bacteria and the factors that control how new virus particles are assembled in a virus infected cell. I teach Genetics and Microbiology every year and Molecular Biology and Virology every few years. I am also a member of the staff that teach our Introductory Biology and our Scientific Writing & Communication classes. I am a mentor for the Applied Innovation Seminar that is the capstone of our Catalyst curriculum. I teach another Catalyst class called “Bring out your dead: Infectious disease through history” that Professor Matzke from our history department and I developed together. I am part of the team that oversees the Catalyst curriculum, Ripon’s skill-based general education curriculum.
I teach a variety of courses in United States history and global environmental history. I got interested in history when I realized that people could have different interpretations about historical developments and that those varying interpretations could shape how we view ourselves and our relation to one another. I decided I wanted to be a history professor before I headed off to a liberal arts college, and then got interested in other pursuits, including anti-poverty work and being a park ranger. When I figured out that I could combine these interests in the study of US history, I decided I wanted to go into history after all. I’m thrilled to be working at Ripon, as part of a wonderful college community, teaching history and environmental studies. One of my favorite aspects of teaching at Ripon is when I get to know students over multiple courses during their college experience. My research interests combine my background in race and environmental history in 20th century U.S. history, and I’m currently examining the history of lead poisoning from drinking water. Some of the courses I teach include U.S. History 1815-1914, U.S. History 1914-Present, United States Environmental History, Prisons and Punishment in American History, The Civil Rights Movement, Natural Disasters in World History, and World War II Home Fronts.