Environmental chemistry professor Andrew Varmilyea is a native of Clifton Park, N.Y. who loves the classroom, and running for 120 miles at a stretch. The married, fifth-year professor and owner of a black lab and a rescue dog chatted about life last week.
Q: What are your goals as a chemistry teacher?
A: “It’s in environmental chemistry in general that I teach, but I also try to do a lot of research with students. I write research grants that fund myself over the summer, but also funds students to do research in the lab and so a lot of those students go to conferences to present their work and things like that … They’ll basically make a big poster like you see some of the posters out in the hallways here and they’ll put all of the research that they’ve done and the data they’ve collected, the results they see, their conclusions – put it all in a graphical way where they can then have a conversation with professionals in their field about their research.”
Q: What is the best part about working here?
A: “Being able to work with students all the time. I mean that’s why I wanted to work at a small school, so you can actually get to know people. I didn’t want to just like show up at a lecture and see a blur of faces. And being able to do the independent research, I feel like we’re really creating scientists, people that can do things after they get out of here. It’s more than just classes.”
Q: Do you have any uplifting teaching moments with the students?
A: “It’s just awesome being able to get emails and the contact you get after people graduate is pretty awesome.
Q: Why do you seek out all these grants?
A: “Basically I wanted to give students the same kinds of opportunities I had in undergrad. So the only reason I’m a professor now, the only reason I was able to get to graduate school originally, was because I had all of these rich experiences with faculty that were on my resume, which prepared me for graduate school. And so in science, going to class is not enough.
Q: You studied in Alaska and Bermuda, which was better and why?
A: “I lived in Alaska for two years so that was just an awesome experience. I lived there for two years after I got my PhD. It’s just a close-knit community because there are no roads connecting it to anywhere else. You either need to take a boat or an airplane to get out of there and the environment is just incredible. Glaciers and the land around you is your laboratory that we used. And so we’d just be going out to these incredible places to do our studies.
Q: Having lived in Alaska how do you feel about global warming?
A: “Yeah its super evident in Alaska especially where I was in Juneau, south east Alaska. A lot of our research was actually looking at effects of climate change on the landscape. And so even just the couple years I was there, you can see glaciers retreating year-to-year and like dwindling down. So a lot of our research was actually looking at – what is the effect on the water chemistry that’s getting dumped out into the ocean as the landscapes change?
Q: Could you tell me more about Bermuda?
A: “Bermuda was like a two-week cruise and so there we were looking at mercury deposition in the ocean. You’re basically working 24 hours a day – everything is bungee corded down.”
Q: How many miles are your races?
A: “Anywhere from 50 to 120 miles.
Q: Does your wife run too?
A: “She is my support person. She’s the one that is like taking care of my nutrition, getting me everything I need along the way because there are little places where she can enter the course and re-supply so she will assess my condition and like basically like give me whatever I need.”
Q: What motivates you?
A: “I’ve always done a lot of endurance things. After college I started to do a couple iron man triathlons, but I didn’t like being on the road all the time. I like more being out in the woods and on trails… I love testing my mind.”
Q: What do you listen to when you’re running?
A: “Nothing, part of it is being out in nature and being like part of that ecosystem, that environment – I just like to experience it all. I like thinking about my current state.”
Q: How many of these races have you done?
A: “I have done like five 50-milers, one 100-miler and I have another 100 miler coming up Oct. 2, actually down in Virginia.
Q: What’s it like being only a few miles from the finish line?
A: “After 50 miles or something like that, it’s all in your head. Everything hurts and you feel like you cant run anymore, but somehow you run for another 12 hours still. I love that internal battle you have. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve done something like that is incredible.
Q: What’s a bizarre thing about you?
A: “I just like can’t sit still really. I’m always tinkering with things.”
For more information about professor Vermilyea go on his blog! http://vermontmountainrunning.blogspot.com/