Bill J. Forsyth


President's Award for Teaching (1992)
Indiana University Southeast
School of Science
Department of Natural Sciences


I was born in Searcy, Arkansas. My father, a pipeline roustabout, died while I was young; so my mother and I had to fend for ourselves. My mother was a waitress most of her working life. During my formative years, my friends and I became proficient at hunting, fishing, driving fast cars, playing cards, and watching girls at the local Dairy Queen. This is not inconsistent with what many young lads did in Arkansas during this time period. When my mother became ill later in life, I drove roundtrip nearly every weekend for 22 hours to be at my mother's side.

I spent my undergraduate years at University of Central Arkansas near my home. During this time, I was resourceful in paying for my college education--selling cigarettes, working at a frozen food factory, playing poker, hunting wild game, and fishing. I was resourceful in the classroom as well. I had no ear for music; so in my music appreciation class, I memorized the colors on the record labels. My resourcefulness and the ability to direct individuals toward a common goal proved to be useful later in my career.

At the University of Arkansas, I enrolled first in the M.S. Program in Zoology and then into a fledging Ph.D. program working with the renowned ornithologist, Dr. Douglas James. My work involved the migratory habits of birds, food habits of the black-bellied tree duck and research on squirrels. The squirrel study provided the most stories. My colleagues and I would visit the local parks collecting samples for later analysis. The local game wardens were unhappy about this effort and stopped my vehicle on several occasions. One day the Chair of the Zoology Department, Dr. P.M. Johnston, drove past my house and counted several squirrels, three wild boars, and a deer hanging from the front porch. To squelch the department head's fury, I made amends by having a huge party and cookout the next weekend.

After spending almost ten years at the University of Arkansas and receiving the first PhD in Zoology from that institution, I joined Indiana University SE as one of two biologists. This was to be the only position I ever held.

I was extremely excited about what was being accomplished at IUS with two faculty members and meager facilities. The department had just received approval for the B.A. program in Biology, and had their first graduate accepted into medical school. Dr. Bill Hebard and I were the architects of the biology program at IUS. We wrote the degree program and later hired Drs. Carl Christenson and Galen Renwick. During the early years, we relied on graduate student friends at the University of Louisville and my wife, Dr. Teresa Forsyth, to teach some of the classes. These years were a colorful, funfilled productive era that could not be duplicated again.

My colleagues and I immediately began to develop a pre-professional program. With me teaching Zoology and Ecology; Renwick teaching Medical Microbiology and Microbiology; Christenson teaching Endocrinology and Comparative Vertebrate
Physiology, and Baker teaching Developmental Anatomy,Anatomy, and Histology, the department was extremely successful in getting students admitted to professional schools. For a five-year span, the department had 100% admission to Medical School. The department was considered to be a center of excellence in the IU system. Later, we split the program into two tracks--liberal arts and pre-professional. Individuals following the liberal arts program now hold positions in virtually every job sector in southern Indiana. IUS biology graduates have been extremely successful. The success of students is the best yardstick of a university's success.

Many professionals have returned to practice in southern Indiana. We have IUS graduates working as dentists in nearly every small town in southern Indiana. Dr. Raymie Gill is in Charlestown. Drs. Goodin and Woolbright are in Austin and Scottsburg. Dr. John Click is in Milltown and Clarksville. Drs. David Lapsey and Ronald Receveur are in New Albany. There are excellent physicians like Dr. John Crase and teachers like Tom Susnick, Greg McCurdy and Lisa Nice in every city as well.

At IUS, I completed the first interdisciplinary research program working with the migratory patterns of birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico near the Welder Wildlife Preserve in Texas. Lloyd Case, a physics professor, and I developed algorithms to describe migratory directional behavior. It was also during this period that I found the first cottonmouth moccasins ever recorded in Indiana.

Later, I began work on enumerating the fishes and mussels inhabiting southern Indiana streams. This work led to a number of papers and presentations by students at the Indiana Academy of Sciences. Nearly all students working on these undergraduate research projects have become distinguished naturalists, researchers, and teachers. Dr. John Click and Mr. Tom Wiles, now adjunct instructors at IUS, both received the Distinguished Teaching Award for adjunct faculty. Mr. Jon Norman received the Distinguished Service Award in 2002. Dr. William Ehringer of the University of Louisville has received numerous awards and grants. The cream has truly risen to the top!

Dr. Baker and I received several grants to work on fish and mussel populations, but perhaps the most significant grant was the Funded Equipment Enhancement Grant that has brought almost a million dollars to the IUS Biology Program. This has allowed the department to develop a state-of-the-art facility for teaching and undergraduate research.

I was a co-founder with Baker and Christenson of the Extended Field Trip Program at IUS. We all became SCUBA divers so that we could take students on trips to tropical reef environments. When my health started to fail, my wife, Dr. Teresa Forsyth, became a lead biologist on trips to Hawaii, Belize and Tahiti. This program began in 1985 and has continued until the present. Interestingly, many students enrolled in this class had never seen the ocean. Some had never been on an airplane. These classes have proven to be some of the most popular ever offered at IUS.

While in southern Indiana, I never lost my love of the natural environment. I was a legendary hunter and fisherman, and for many individuals, I was just a good hunting and fishing buddy. I even taught several novice IUS students how to hunt and fish. My hunting and fishing expeditions took me to Colorado, Alaska and other environs. I also spent time traveling down the Amazon River. I kept copious field notes and journals that I religiously reviewed and studied.

I believed strongly that a person should be a student for life. Hundreds of students that I stimulated to academic inquiry sailing westward in the tenuous search for truth and the pursuit of excellence have become students for life. This is my most enduring legacy.