A Professor on Five Continents

Some may find it odd that the resident zoologist at a school whose mascot is the beaver happens to be an expert on badgers. But Dr. Rick Lampe, professor of biology, doesn’t mind.

“If you have ever met Dr. Lampe, you have gotten ‘badgered’ at some point,” says Brittany Denker, a sophomore biology and chemistry major from Audubon. “His stories always start out with ‘I’m going to badger you for a moment!’ It’s a lot of fun to see the reaction on peoples’ face when they realize exactly what he meant by ‘badger.’ You can always tell that he really loves it.”

Lampe, Class of 1969, wrote his PhD dissertation on predatory strategies of the North American badger, and one of his most recent projects with students was mounting a marker-tip sized camera to a remote-controlled 1/24 scale replica of an M1-A2 Abrams Tank to send underground to observe the animals’ burrows. Like many of Lampe’s projects, their nature is such that they must be performed in the field, which is well-suited to his educational style.

In his tenure as faculty member at Buena Vista University, Lampe has taught more than 4,000 students and led more than 20 trips with students, ranging from tropical ecology in Belize to on-site fly fishing instruction in Arkansas. These trips are for students’ academic credit, are usually co-led by other BVU faculty members and staff, and – more recently – have included alumni and members of the Storm Lake community.

“I felt like that college freshman of 1976 being introduced to badger ecology all over again,” says Mark Lewis, Class of 1980, of a 2001 field trip he took with Lampe in South Africa. “Dr. Lampe was then, and remains, one of the most passionate naturalists and inspiring individuals I have encountered in my life.”

Lewis was a student in Lampe’s first biology class in 1976. The two have remained friends throughout their professional lives, keeping in regular communication and sometimes fly fishing together.

From his journeys, Lampe has photographs of the Australian Outback and tales of a car breakdown while fly fishing in Italy. He shares memories of taking students to Los Alamos, N.M., where he had a graduate school colleague who was studying deer populations on the nuclear testing grounds. He recalls the excitement a student felt when the student realized the research project he had done on a 10-day trip to the Florida Keys used the same methodology as a published study on the same topic.

 “When I taught desert or marine biology in Florida or Texas, we were always doing projects: you ask questions, get a hypothesis, grab some data, and test it,” says Lampe. “In Africa, there’s a very good reason to stay in the car: you go fumbling around in Kruger Park, and you’re going to be lunch. But you can watch, you can observe, and you can count.”

In 2005, Kerry (Weddle) Hastings joined her husband Craig, Class of 1986, and Lampe, their friend and professor, on a trip to South Africa. Kerry is currently a lab supervisor at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc, while Craig is a senior research associate at Iowa State University in veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine.

“We visited a farm very near the east coast,” says Kerry. “It’s not like an Iowa farm. That region is very hilly there, nearly mountainous. It’s nearly impossible to plant anything in nice straight rows, so they plant sugar cane and trees everywhere there’s spare land.”

It’s vistas and insights like these – along with Rick Lampe himself – that make these journeys before (and after) graduation so memorable.