For Castleton professor Peter Kimmel, each day in the semester since he began his career in 1991 has been in the science building on campus. Now, Kimmel spends half of his day in the science building, and half of his time in the dean’s office after being appointed associate academic dean.
“There are always students who need signatures,” he said in a recent interview. “They told me that that’s half the job, signing things and helping students with problems.”
For some on campus, Kimmel is known as ‘the bird guy.’ He teaches developmental biology – and in that class, they hatch ducks and geese, which can be seen walking around in the spring. It was an idea that occurred to him early in his career here.
“When I arrived at Castleton, I discovered all these great boxes of slides,” he said. “Pictures of little embryos and things like that, and some of the apparatuses for hatching eggs, and it just kind of developed from there.”
Every year, Kimmel says he adds more to that class – and it is something that his students enjoy.
“For me, he was not only an amazing professor that I learned so much from,” Castleton senior Corbyn Loomis said. “He was also a voice of reason in the craziness of choosing classes, and helped me on my path through college.”
Loomis took three classes with Kimmel, and said he always seemed professional, and really knew his audience.
“Not only that, but he always put a spin on it (the material) that made it easy to remember,” Loomis said. “If you’ve had a class with him, you’ll know what I mean.”
Castleton biology major Celine Larose agrees.
“He’s an incredible professor,” she said. “I had him for anatomy and physiology this past fall semester and he really made the course fun and interesting.”
Larose said that Kimmel started every class with a funny cartoon, and was always available to help students.
Kimmel was not born in Vermont. He was born on the west coast in Portland, Oregon.
“I went to high school, my undergraduate years, and received my master’s degree in Portland,” Kimmel said. “I had the opportunity to go to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for my PhD. I was offered some support.”
He spent four years getting his PhD at UMass and then one year at the University of Saskatchewan, doing a research post-doctorate.
“Then this job opened up, and I applied for it,” he said. “I got this job, and then one of my colleagues used to tell me that I came to Vermont for the weather, because it was warmer than it was in Saskatchewan.”
When Kimmel started college, he thought he wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I’m not sure how serious I was about that,” he said. “I think it was just something that, in the back of my mind, I thought that I wanted to do.”
As he went through college, he lost interest in being a veterinarian, and became more focused on general biology.
“I actually, at the end of four years, I had enough credits to graduate, but I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation,” he said. “I actually took a fifth year, and that’s the year when I took the classes that meant the most to me – physiology, and animal biology classes.”
For Kimmel, that was the turning point.
“It was like, ‘wow, this is so cool,’” he said. “It was sort of an indirect path, but that’s how I ended up in my field.”
Academic Dean Jonathan Spiro said the administration is lucky to have Kimmel for three reasons.
“He is an extremely bright and thoughtful professor … he always asks which course of action is best for our students, and he’s the only guy we could find who was willing to work for minimum wage,” he joked.
Kimmel considers himself very fortunate to be here.
“When I started here, I always felt like … I lucked out,” he said. “This is really the first real job I’ve had. I came in not sure whether I’d be able to do it, and … this is it for me.”