Marlboro Remembers Bob Engel

The Marlboro College community was saddened by the death of Bob Engel, biology professor emeritus, on January 22, 2018, in his home as he wished. Bob shared his delight in the natural world as a member of the Marlboro faculty for 36 years, from 1975 to his retirement in 2011, and continued to be a vibrant part of the community after that, teaching additional classes, making guest appearances, and offering alumni birding walks.

“Bob brought such vitality and passion to everything he did and especially enjoyed his work with students both inside and outside the classroom,” said Richard Glejzer, provost and dean of faculty. “He will be greatly missed by all of us at Marlboro.”

“He was such a master teacher,” said President Kevin, who often reflects on his good fortune in attending an introductory to Bob’s class on ornithology. “I learned more about birds from Bob in that 20 minutes than I had learned about birds in any other context or at any other time.”

Bob was a strong believer in the liberal arts, and in Marlboro’s self-directed academic model. He said, “People who understand the history and aspirations of our own species and who can speak to and understand different cultures, will make the largest contributions as life scientists.”

In an age of specialization, Bob acquired an unusually broad-based understanding of the life sciences, teaching courses on topics ranging from general biology to tropical, marine, and desert ecology, and from ornithology to comparative physiology and plant taxonomy. He usually spoke without notes, and with an attention to detail, dry sense of humor, and storytelling prowess that awed many students.

“Biology class with Bob was fascinating because he would open each class with the question, ‘Well, what are you curious about?’” said Lara Knudsen ’03, who went on to medical school and practices family medicine in Oregon. “And we could ask him anything—why do leaves change colors, why do birds have different calls, what are the parasites I brought back from India? Bob helped me establish a habit of being naturally curious about things, which leads to endless learning—a valuable asset in the field of medicine.”

“Bob’s influence on my life and professional trajectory was, and still is, nothing short of profound,” says Hall Cushman ’82, a professor of biology at Sonoma State University. “I vividly remember meeting him in 1978 when, during an epic snowstorm, I visited Marlboro as a prospective student. I was considering multiple colleges and majors at the time but, after this meeting, decided to attend Marlboro, study biology and work closely with Bob. This decision is one that I have never regretted—I am still devoted to Marlboro, biology, teaching and research.”

“I came from a rough, rural public high school, and Bob taught me to learn, think and grow better,” said Tim Tibbitts ’80, a wildlife biologist at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. “His passion for and knowledge of biology was highly contagious. My vocation has been an attempted 30-year extension of Bob’s desert biology field course, minus the wild nights at the Bum Steer in Tucson.”

The Robert E. Engel Award was established by colleagues and alumni in 2011, in honor of Bob, and is awarded each year to a student who demonstrates Bob’s passion for the natural world and his keen powers of observation and inquiry as a natural historian.