Russell, Dr. Anthony

2012 Outstanding Contribution to the Alberta Science and Technology Community, Honouree

Scientist's Influence Creates Ripples Throughout the Province

Beyond his impressive titles, honours and contributions to the field of science, Dr. Anthony Russell is a generous teacher, a tireless advocate for science and a creative researcher.

Academically, Dr. Russell, Zoology professor at the University of Calgary, is an internationally respected researcher of evolutionary and functional morphology of living and extinct vertebrates.

“I like having something difficult to comprehend,” he says, “like the vastness of time over which life has evolved; how space and time force life into particular directions; and why things are the way they are. For example, why do all vertebrates have four legs, why don’t’ some have six?” he asks.

More than Teaching Facts 

It was this curiosity and an analytical approach that drew Dr. Russell to science. He was drawn to teaching by his experience as a recent graduate “flying by the seat of my pants” teaching at a small university in rural Africa.It’s like ripples in a pond; the more people you influence the more that overall influence is spread.

“The students were thrust into a situation to find out about what the western world does, but they didn’t know anything about that world,” he recalls. “It taught me to how relate to people when the formal curriculum doesn’t mean anything, and gave me some idea that my life as an educator could be more useful than just teaching facts.”

Dr. Russell’s students at the University of Calgary recognize that. They awarded him the Student’s Union Teaching Excellence Award twice. In 2003 he received the Faculty of Graduate Studies award for outstanding graduate student supervision for his meticulous training of MSc and PhD students at the University of Calgary.

Inspiring Others 

Dr. Russell is passionate about discovery and conducting independent research, but he says his real contribution is through his educational roles.

“I’m sowing seeds in young minds,” he says. “That serves society much more subtly but much more widely. It’s like ripples in a pond; the more people you influence the more that overall influence is spread.”

Dr. Russell’s influence can be seen beyond classroom through his involvement in the Royal Tyrell Museum and his support to the Calgary Zoo over the years, where he worked in education, scientific research and as a trustee. At the University of Calgary he has served on executive and steering committees, the university’s Board of Governors and the Senate and served a six-year term as Associate Dean, Student Affairs.

“I can spread influence beyond what I do at local level through contributing to fiscal management and taking responsibility for institutions,” Dr. Russell says.

His was instrumental in establishing the Tri-University Agreement between the biology departments at the universities of Calgary, Alberta and Lethbridge, which led to an initiative that allows students following an entire program at any of the province’s community colleges to transfer to any university in the province without penalty.

Looking Forward 

Dr. Russell will retire in 2013. But he has no plans to actually ‘retire’. He says he plans to continuing teaching in his immediate future, and would like to contribute in totally different areas, yet to be defined.

“I have the time and energy,” he says, “to do something that provides a different challenge in different environment.”