Thomas J. Walker: Spirit of Gainesville nominee


Dr. Thomas J. Walker

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 9, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.

Dr. Thomas J. Walker has resided in Gainesville since 1957. A world-class expert on the calling behavior and evolution of crickets and katydids he was honored as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1964. Over his teaching career as Professor of Entomology and Nematology at UF from 1957 to 2001 he taught and mentored students who have gone on to successful careers in research and teaching at the university level.

Facts

Category: Education

About Dr. Thomas J. Walker

Occupation: Professor Emeritus, UF

Years in Gainesville: 56+

Spouse: Jane Walker (deceased, former county commissioner)

Children: William and Rose Ann

Although certainly effective as a teacher and graduate advisor, this nomination centers on his service as an educator to the broader community and in particular draws attention to his success as a visionary leader and organizer of three enterprises that center on education about the natural world.

1. The University of Florida's Natural Area Teaching Laboratory (UF NATL, http://natl.ifas.ufl.edu/history.php). Professor Walker was one of those most involved in the set-aside of this now 60-acre tract beginning in 1993 as a campus area dedicated to teaching students and the general public about natural Florida. In the years since then, he has been the organizing force behind the restoration and development of this tract, from what was essentially an abandoned portion of campus to an outdoor instructional park and laboratory valued by UF faculty, students, and the general public. NATL features tracts that demonstrate ecological succession and fire ecology in fields, an upland longleaf pine forest, hardwood hammock and wetland habitats. There is also a small public park for picnics.

To accomplish the goal of helping visitors to understand and better appreciate natural Florida, he oversaw and participated in the creation of a series of self-guided nature trails that begin at the south of UF's Cultural Plaza. One of his central goals has always been to draw in as many people as possible both for an educational experience and also to learn how to be participants and leaders in practical conservation and conservation education. Accordingly, he has tirelessly sought expert help and enlisted numerous volunteers and members of the UF to help in the enterprise, especially the pinewoods restoration. He pushed for a system where graduate students could gain valuable experience, and he sought close ties with the Museum of Natural History. The scope and centrality of his involvement cannot be adequately summarized in this short nomination. He it has touched the creation, improvement and maintenance of UF NATL at every level from the hard physical labor of forest restoration, something he continues in his eighties, to the leadership and imagination summarized above. Although no longer the director, he continues to spend numerous hours each week on the project, and he has helped to construct an organization that will long persist in service to the goal of a first class outdoors teaching location. Although its full potential is not yet realized, NATL has already helped to educate numerous visitors and students about north Florida's ecosystems; more than any one person Tom Walker is to be thanked for its existence.

2. Dr. Walker was a pioneer in making scientific knowledge freely available to all – professionals, amateurs and the general public -- on the Internet. In 1994, at the dawn of the world wide web, he led the Florida Entomological Society to be the first scientific society to make its journal, The Florida Entomologist, freely available on line to anyone. He oversaw another first by working tirelessly to get all issues from 1917 to present in accessible electronic format. He was (and is) a tireless advocate for open, free scientific literature and was one of the pioneers in broad discussions about the benefits and costs of this initially controversial practice. In the years since 1994 numerous scolarly societies have followed the model of the Florida Entomologist, and although much remains to be done, access of scientific knowledge and the benefits it brings to society is far greater than was previously the case.

3. Websites for Public Education: As someone who saw the educational possibilities of the internet very shortly after its inception and as appropriate technology first became available Tom Walker created a website, the Singing Insects of North America (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/). He created a site that combines recorded insect songs, photographs, maps, scientific data and literature, into one large website that covers the crickets and katydids of North America. This site has been influential in the creation of many second and third generation websites concerned with public education about natural history. He also oversaw the initial creation of the UF NATL website and the University of Florida Book of Insect Records (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/) -- a compendium of fascinating information about insects contributed by students, professionals and members of the broader public. He continues to manage or help to manage both websites.

Nominated byKen Prestwich & Catherine Langtimm

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