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Alumni award recipient Quentin Skinner had intended to enter UW and become a dentist. Instead, he was instrumental in watershed education, grass taxonomy
If this Outstanding Alumni Award winner had continued his planned career path, the American Dental Association might be honoring him instead of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Professor Emeritus Quentin Skinner had every intention of being a dentist.
"He gave us common sense science that cuts through all the political nonsense and truly shows how to manage water, soil, plants, wildlife and the future success of mankind," wrote Jack Turnell of Turnell Cattle Company near Meeteetse. "He was very important in saving our forest permit and teaching us how to better manage our ranch."
"As an instructor, he has mentored thousands of young people in the natural resource field," wrote long-time friend and former student Bob Budd of Lander. "His teaching style is unique, direct, and captivating. Quentin was engaging dialogue and writing skills in natural resources long before that became a standard teaching practice. Most of all, he made every student feel important, and he made every student think."
Moved to Georgia
Skinner and his wife, Arlene, live in Georgia now, having moved to a warmer climate and lower elevation to help combat Arlene's cancer. "I hope we have it whipped," Quentin says from his Georgia home. "It's a lot easier for her being near our son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren here."
He adds, "It's really pleasant. For a guy who froze to death coaching skiing, "
A Pinedale native, athletes ran in the Skinner family. Quentin and his brothers, Bud, Ole, Courtney, Bob, and Monte, were inducted into the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He attended UW on an athletic scholarship and earned his bachelor's degree in biological sciences in 1963. He was completing a stint in the service and stationed in Alaska when he
"Military is good for everyone, and it was especially good for me," he now says. "I grew up a lot. I lived in the bachelor officer quarters and going back to school was what a lot of officers had in mind. I went back to be a dentist but was on the waiting list. My wife and I thought I was too old to pursue that, and I went into my chosen field."
Master's in Recreation, Doctorate in Plants
He received his master's in recreation in 1970 taking part in boys and girls camps and hunting and fishing in Wyoming, and there was also the skiing. His advisers were from the colleges of engineering and agriculture, and he examined chemistry and water quality to study the effects of recreation on mountain lake systems.
He decided to study plants for his Ph.D. "I chose grasses as a group to really learn. I looked around the U.S. and found two people I wanted to study under," he notes. "One was at Texas A&M, and the other was Alan Ackerman Beetle right there at UW." Professor Beetle had earned his master"s from UW in 1938, returned to UW in 1946, and taught for the next 32 years.
Skinner coached men's and women's skiing while earning his advanced degrees and, when range management was split out of plant sciences, moved over from the Water Resources Research Institute.
Thirty-one years and almost $24 million in research awards later, he says he wouldn't change a thing.
"If I were to have things end tomorrow, I think I've had a wonderful life," he observes. "There can't be anything with more freedom and imagination than being a professor for 35 years, and I've got to meet many people."
Lengthy List of Accomplishments
His record of research, teaching, and extension would stretch several pages. His contributions to Wyoming and national agriculture tally several publications, including Grasses of Wyoming, Wyoming Watersheds and Riparian Zones, Field Guide to the Grasses of Nevada, The Field Guide to Wyoming Grasses (in press), The Field Guide to Alaska Grasses (near to being in press), and he's working on a field guide to the grasses of the southeastern U.S.
"The list of scientific papers describing Dr. Skinner's research has been published in many outlets," writes UW Professor Emeritus Bill Laycock. "They include a number of invited chapters in books, 35 authored or co-authored journal articles, and 65 articles in symposium proceedings, most of which were invited presentations. The list of presentations at scientific and other types of meetings is nine pages long attesting to Dr. Skinner's dedication to science and to presenting results of research to a wide range of audiences."
Research isn't his main love. That was teaching. "Research to me was a process. It paid the way to teach and do extension," Skinner says. "It was fascinating to me, but it gave me a good basis to teach."
He credits four professors for his desire to teach well: Carl Wiesen in agriculture, Robert Champlin in engineering, Rebecca Collins in organic chemistry, and George Baxter in zoology.
"All believed the student was the important commodity of a university system," he says. "I kind of wished and hoped I could be the kind of teachers they were. With extension and research, I really felt I had the knowledge I needed to compete with anybody in what I did. The teaching came from those four individuals."
Bret Moline of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, and former extension educator, remembers working with Skinner. "I have found no equal to his knowledge and ability to get that knowledge in to a usable format," he says. "He worked extremely hard to make sure the people he was working with understood and could use the information he was teaching.">
Developed Watershed Training Programs
Skinner was a principal instructor of the Watershed 101 Module, a four-day course that informed citizens of the functions and dynamics of watersheds.
"He had a unique ability to take a complicated topic and boil it down to where it came together in a four-day course," writes Bobbie Frank, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts. "He generated more enthusiasm and excitement for watershed management in Wyoming at the local level than any other single individual."
When Skinner provided recommendations on the correct way to release the produced waters of the coalbed methane development in the Powder River Basin, "He had the respect of both the gas industry and landowners," writes Dennis Sun, rancher and publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
"He never showed favoritism as he just told everyone the facts based on science. His work with the conservation districts with water quality monitoring training saved this state from overbearing regulations. We will always remember his hard work on that issue."