If you ever happen to find yourself in the same room as College of Sciences Alumnus of the Year Travis Huxman when a life sciences trivia game breaks out, you would be wise to do one of two things: Immediately get him on your team or run out of the room. Indeed, it would seem virtually impossible to stump Travis with any question related to biology — unless that question was: “Which do you prefer: Studying life sciences or teaching the subject to others?” Because he’s done both, with equal accomplishment.
Currently a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, Huxman began laying the groundwork for a career as a physiological ecologist at Cal-State University, San Bernardino, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Shortly after finishing his master’s degree, Huxman traded one arid climate for another, enrolling at UNLV to pursue his doctorate in biological science. During his time at UNLV, he served as both a graduate assistant and research associate.
After completing his doctorate in 2000, Huxman headed for the University of Colorado on a post-doctorate fellowship before returning to the desert at the University of Arizona, where he dove head-first into his career. In addition to working as a professor, Huxman served as the director of Biosphere 2, a renowned, large-scale earth science facility that also plays a key role in science education for the public. While at Arizona, he also was the co-director of the Arizona Center for STEM teachers, helping to oversee a significant increase in the number of students — particularly under-represented students — entering the STEM fields.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Huxman has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and been awarded nearly 30 grants totaling more than $7 million. He’s also been elected fellow of the Ecological Society of America and served as chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Ecological Observatory Network, a prominent observatory with the National Science Foundation. Furthermore, he’s been honored by UC Irvine for Outstanding University Service; Cal-State San Bernardino as a Distinguished Alumnus; UNLV for Dissertation Research Excellence; and the Ecological Society of America, which bestowed upon him the Forrest Shreve Award for Desert Research.
Perhaps most significantly, Huxman has been a dedicated mentor his entire career, offering support to more than 100 undergraduate and dozens of post-graduate and post-doctoral life science researchers.
What does it mean to you to be a Rebel, and how would you define “Rebel Pride”?
I was a graduate student at UNLV during a period of considerable growth in research and reputation, and what I felt was encouraged and empowered to aim my studies at the biggest questions in science — which is to say, playing on the same field as the big dogs in the discipline. So being a Rebel meant having the courage to make the most of my skills, both in doing science and creating knowledge that best serves society. At the time, there was a palpable feeling throughout the science department — from students to faculty to staff — that we weren’t scared to take a seat at the table with the best scholars in our field. So being a Rebel was about challenging the existing hierarchy in higher education and showing that we could do the best science in the world on the most important topics.
As for “Rebel Pride,” to me it refers to my own commitment to continue to carry out this mission. It also means that current students, faculty, and staff should share a passion to follow through on our university’s transformation to a world-class institution and embrace the expectation of excellence that comes from our emerging new status.
What’s your message to current and future Rebels as it relates to your chosen field?
I would like to see Rebel students, the university, and all of Southern Nevada front and center in the effort to find forward-thinking, sustainable, inclusive, and equitable solutions for the environmental challenges facing our planet. Students who are finding their passions and honing their skills in a place like Las Vegas, at an institution like UNLV, have the opportunity to ask important questions about the future: How will we live with less water? How can we support a tourism industry when transportation will change? How can we be inclusive and avoid entrenching inequalities during a transition to a new way of living? By helping to answer these questions, students today and tomorrow can play a big part in shaping our planet’s future.