Faculty of the Fortnight: Chuck Levitan Inspiring students through his love for science, teaching and the great outdoors
October 16, 2015
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Chuck Levitan is a man that sparks curiosity, from the way he speaks in the classroom to his unruly white hair. Part of what influenced this uniqueness is his unusual childhood.
“I grew up in Montana for the most part, first through 12th grade. We were living near a military compound out in the country in a house that we had built,” said Levitan.
When growing up in rural Montana next to a military base, Levitan had to find less conventional ways to entertain himself during free time.
“Being near the National Guard was kind of cool because we got to go play with military equipment.
It was a very weird part of our childhood,” Levitan said. “We would go out and find leftover bazooka shells and take them home and polish them up and repaint them so they would look like brand new live shells. The Fourth of July was just the beginning of the explosive season.”
Not all of Levitan’s free time was spent creating replica bazooka shells. Often you could find him outside exploring nature.
“One of the big parts of my childhood was being a Boy Scout. I spent a lot of time outside in nature. I would go hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s land development was less prevalent, so we had a pretty casual attitude toward trespassing. I used to be able to walk wherever I wanted,” said Levitan.
As Levitan grew older, his attention shifted from being a kid who was always outside to a young adult working hard in school.
“In high school I was deeply into science and I was also on the debate team,” Levitan said. “We used to travel like the sports teams and get nervous before arguing with the other team. It was really cool because we actually got credit for arguing.”
Levitan’s interests in science started early.
“My father would let me build something called a Heathkit. It was before integrated circuits,” Levitan said. “You would get a circuit board and a bunch of resistors and transistors and a soldering gun and use them to create something. I built a clock radio from components.”
Levitan has always had a passion for the outdoors and science, but when thinking about potential career options, being a professor was not his first choice.
“When I was in college, I was looking at engineering as a possibility. It’s science but it’s more applied. I think of it as more of a physics field,” said Levitan.
Education is now paramount to landing a well-paying job, and Levitan takes pride in his long career at Sierra Nevada College.
“I came to Tahoe as an aquatic ecologist to study the lake shrimp, and while doing so I heard about a job at Sierra Nevada College,” Levitan said. “From the time I heard about the job, it took about a week and a half to hear that I had gotten it, which was so cool.”
Levitan has a passion for what he does, a fact that is obvious to every student who catches a glimpse of him in the field teaching by his own rules.
“People can learn from books or they can be teachers, but in books you miss a lot of the details and the color and the fun of it all,” Levitan said. “What I’ve been doing is giving students work that is more research-based. This allows a student to get in the field and gather real data and actually do science.”