Q & A with Dr. Dan Ippolito


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Dr. Dan Ippolito has been at AU for 28 years as a 

professor of biology. He received his undergraduate degree in biology from Yale University and his PhD in zoology from the University of Texas. In the summer, Ippolito teaches aquatic ecology at the Au Sable Institute in Michigan. Ippolito is passionate about aquatic ecology and the integration of faith and science.

 

Q: What sparked your passion for science?

A: I have always really liked animals. Not so much as pets, but I really like wildlife and ecology. Really what probably got me started as a little kid was reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book—which got all the facts wrong, but made the animals so interesting. So, I am not your typical scientist, in that I’m so-so at math and I really like history and literature. I’m really more of a humanities person, but I really like animals, so I went into zoology.

 

Q: What is your favorite area to research and teach?

A: There’s really two. My original main interest was fish—Ichthyology. Since then, I have broadened it to aquatic ecology, stream assessment, how to use aquatic invertebrates as indicator organisms. Then, in the last seven or eight years, I have really developed an interest in the philosophy of science, the faith and science dialogue and how so many people misunderstand the interaction between faith and science.

 

Q: A lot of people don’t think of faith and science as correlating topics. What do you consider to be the role of faith in science?

A: It’s not so much that they have to correlate, it’s that a lot of people are under the misconception that science represents a threat to faith, or that the two are adversaries. In reality, science developed in Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries because the Judeo-Christian tradition created a fertile soil for science, and the idea that the universe is orderly, that because we bear God’s image and likeness we can understand the creation, and the idea that God is faithful so we can expect his creation to be orderly. Without these ideas, science could not really have started. I think Christianity provided a cradle for modern science to develop. On the other side, even science is ultimately based on some faith assumption—that the universe is real, that our senses are trustworthy. So, they are not necessarily in any way adversarial.

 

Q: Are you working on any research projects now?

A: I just finished a paper that should come out any day now in “Christian Scholars Review” about the foundational assumptions of science and how similar they are to the religious idea of natural law. Then, other than that, I’m getting ready as soon as this semester is over to go teach at the Au Sable Institute, and then I will think about what to do next.

 

Q: What is the Au Sable Institute and what do you do there?

A: “Au Sable” is French for “at the sands,” because the soil is so sandy in Northern Michigan, and there’s a river there called the Au Sable River. This is a Christian environmental institute. It started out I think in the 50s as a summer camp for boys, then it was Taylor University’s field station and then in the late 70s it became an independent environmental institute devoted to a Christian environmental stewardship. I’ve been going there for the past 23 years.

 

Q: What led you and your wife here to AU? 

A: I’ve been here 28 years. After I finished my PhD, I took a position teaching Marine Biology at the University of New England in Southern Maine. Even though it was a very pleasant setting, I felt that I was spending too much time on committee work and assessment and not enough time on my teaching, and there were some difficult internal politics going on. So after about three years there, I began looking for another position. I just happened to see an ad in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” for a position at AU. What caught my eye was the reference to the integration of faith and scholarship, which is something I’m very invested in. So I applied for the position and the rest, as they say, is history.

My wife came 17 years ago, and at the time, she was a single mother and the Head of Biology at the Cleveland Clinic, and she was working on the AIDS virus. She thought that was a little risky for a single mother, so she was also looking for a teaching position. I actually interviewed her when she came here. One year later, we decided to get married.

 

Q: How did you get interested in karate as a hobby?

A: I mucked around with different styles of karate in college, but didn’t get very far. Then—we’re talking around 24 or 25 years ago—my daughter had some problems with special perception and motor planning when she was little, so she had to have occupational therapy. They told me that I should find some activity for her that would help her with coordination and posture and so on. I thought, maybe martial arts. So, I looked for a club that would be good for a clumsy little girl, and I found a very good club in Alexandria. They told me there was really no reason that I couldn’t also come and train with my daughter. So, we stuck with it. She was Indiana State Champion twice, and I was the AAU Midwest Senior Champion in 2003. I have a fifth degree black belt now. I stopped competing full time after I won the Midwest title in 2003. I had just decided to start dipping my toes in competition again, but I had a hip replacement in December. So now I’m looking at a small tournament in Anderson here in July.

 

Q: You’ve traveled to many places around the world. What was your favorite destination and where else would you still like to go?

A: In terms of visual beauty, when I was in the sixth grade, I lived in Zambia in East Africa. My family and I went to Victoria Falls, and that was just amazing. Then, I grew up for most of my childhood in Rome, but I didn’t actually see very much. But I went back I think three times and took my wife once, and being able to see Rome and Florence and the artistic and historical wonders was very meaningful to me. The first time I took a Tri-S trip to Costa Rica, the rainforest was another peak experience for me. Before I die, I would like to go back to East Africa one more time, see the Far East and I would like to see the rainforest one more time—which I may get to do because I’m trying to revive the Tri-S ecology trip to Costa Rica. The first half of my life I lived all over the world, but I really learned what it means to set roots in a community here in Anderson. I’m grateful to the university for that.