Retiring professor recounts experiences strengthening atmospheric, oceanic science program

By: Zoe Sagalow
Publisher: The Diamondback
Published: May 13, 2013

Robert Hudson’s favorite part of teaching is connecting with his students.

“I’m interacting with very intelligent people,” he said. “Intelligence has nothing to do with whether a person is good at science or not. It has to do with the person’s thought process. That’s what science is — it’s trying to figure out why something happens.”

That was the philosophy that defined Hudson’s 23 years with the university’s atmospheric and oceanic science department. On Tuesday, he gave his final lecture to his AOSC200: Weather and Climate class before he retires at the end of June.

Hudson first came to the university to in 1990, and served as the department’s chair until 1998. Under his tenure, the department developed a “very strong relationship” with the Maryland Department of the Environment. He also encouraged the department to develop an undergraduate program for the first time, which was approved by the Board of Regents in 2011.

“All of this got started because of Bob’s willingness to bridge traditional gaps and introduce himself as someone who legitimately wants to help,” assistant research scientist Jeffery Stehr said. “Bob came over from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and brought a fresh outlook to the department. His favored method was to ask, ‘Well, why don’t we go over and talk to these people?’ He did that many times, persuading possibly skeptical faculty and others to collaborate.”

Through his connections with the Goddard center, Hudson developed a partnership between the university and NASA, which led to the creation of the university’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. Hudson was also on a team of faculty members that developed the Marquee Courses in Science and Technology — specialized classes that “were tailored for non-science majors” but still required students to learn “quite a lot of science,” Hudson said.

The goal of the marquee courses was to show students that science is important to everyday life and to teach students to think about what they are learning. Hudson said he thinks it’s good for people to be “a little skeptical” of the information they hear, and he always follows up his students’ answers to his questions in class by asking, “Why?”

“It’s answering the question, ‘Why? Why does this happen?'” Hudson said. “The idea really is to increase scientific education because there’s so much misinformation going around.”

Atmospheric and oceanic sciences graduate student Austin Hope, who works as Hudson’s teaching assistant, appreciates the approach his professor brings to the class.

“I find the goal and structure of the marquee courses to be excellent steps at helping large numbers of people learn how to talk about and appreciate the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] fields,” Hope said.

Some of Hudson’s students said those attempts appear to have worked.

“He definitely made [the course] understandable for nonscience majors … [and] tried to relate it to the outside world a lot and the current political climate,” freshman theatre major James Skaggs said.

“He seemed like a pretty nice guy, too, outside of class,” freshman bioengineering major Shane Carroll said.

While Hudson may be retiring from teaching, he plans to continue his work as a scientist. He also wants devote more time to carpentry, including making chests of drawers for his grandchildren.

“I must keep active,” Hudson said. “I’m not the kind of person who’s just going to sit down and not do anything.”

Reprinted from The Diamondback with permission.