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Rob Thomas named Montana Regents Professor

November 5, 2010

The Regents named Thomas Regents Professor during their bi-monthly meeting, Thursday, Sept. 23 on the campus of Montana Tech of the University of Montana.

“During his 17 years of service to the Montana University System, Dr. Thomas has been an exemplary teacher, providing and advocating for experiential education,” the Regents’ announcement read, referring to Thomas’ involvement in Montana Western’s implementation of the Experience One block-scheduling program.

Montana Western is the first and only public four-year university in the country to offer an immersion-learning system in which students take one class at a time.

“We are very proud of the recognition Professor Thomas just received,” Montana Western Chancellor Richard Storey said. “His unceasing commitment to research, education and this institution is truly inspiring, and I am so pleased the Regents recognized that with the Regents Professorship. Rob is the first faculty member to be named Regents Professor on any Montana system campus outside of Bozeman and Missoula. He is an outstanding scientist and a remarkable educator.”

Thomas was also awarded the nation’s highest teaching honor partially due to his role in UMW’s switch to block scheduling. In November 2009, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named Thomas the Baccalaureate Colleges U.S. Professor of the Year. Thomas was the first Montana professor to earn this prestigious honor.

Thomas, a native of Pleasanton, Calif., earned a baccalaureate degree in geology from Humboldt State University. He later earned a master’s degree from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Thomas joined the Montana Western faculty in 1993 after teaching at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Thomas counts over 50 peer-reviewed publications and nearly a half-million dollars in extramural funding to his name. He co-authored 25 geological interpretive signs along Montana’s section of the Lewis and Clark Trail and is currently working on a book of Yellowstone-area geology with City University of New York Staten Island President Bill Fritz and a book of Montana geology with UMW colleague Sheila Roberts.

In November 2008, Thomas and his Environmental Field Studies students performed an comprehensive analysis of stream restoration on Montana’s upper Big Hole River. In 18 days (one block), the students conducted their analysis and drafted a 150-page assessment report on their collaborative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local ranchers to help preserve the endangered fluvial Arctic grayling fish.

Thomas describes such experiential service-learning projects as the core of Experience One and credited his Montana Western colleagues for making such a fundamental educational transformation possible.

“I am honored to receive this professorship,” Thomas said. “I believe it is as much of a reflection on this university as a whole and our innovations as it is upon me. What this university did and continues to do is truly remarkable.”