Peter Vila is one of the professors of environmental sciences in Shepherd’s Institute of Environmental and Physical Sciences. A favorite among students, Vila teaches nine different classes, incorporating fieldwork into his curriculum.
Clarissa Matthews, another professor of environmental sciences, stated that Vila is a great colleague. Matthews mentioned that Vila’s mark of fame is how fun his classes are; one of his classes even includes bear cub tracking.
Vila himself jumped around the country quite a bit before settling at Shepherd. While working post-op at MIT, Vila’s wife, a southern lady, told him that she wanted to live below the Mason-Dixon line and under three hours from the coast. “Shepherd barely made it,” Vila said, “but I applied and here I am.”
Vila’s favorite aspect of Shepherd is the students; their enthusiasm makes the school a truly fun place to be. A big part of that, Vila added, is that he teaches upper-level classes that students really like. His pupils know what they want to do and learn, so they are as excited to do research as Vila is.
Senior Carrie Drewry has taken several of Vila’s classes. She said that Vila is one of her favorite professors. “He’s really easygoing, and he goes to great lengths to make sure you understand the material,” she said. Some of the math concepts in Vila’s classes can be quite complicated, but Drewry stated that Vila makes sure that everyone understands.
Vila also coordinates the aquatics program. He teaches classes from Stream Ecology to Ichthyology; he also teaches Wildlife Management, an exciting class that gets to track bears during the winter. Regrettably, that field trip was cancelled due to the weather this year. Vila said, “It was very disappointing for me and the students. Unfortunately, that’s just the way the field works.”
In addition, Vila often takes his students for fieldwork at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). They get to use the NCTC’s facilities and resources for studying fish collections, electroshocking fish in streams and lakes (which does not harm the fish), and for tracking animals. Vila mentioned that students could take classes at the NCTC for Shepherd credit if they want.
Along with teaching his classes, Vila conducts his own research; recently, he completed a project with one of his students studying and tracking an endangered species of turtle native to West Virginia. Vila is currently doing stream work in Jefferson County, assessing what kind and how many nutrients streams here are sending to the bay.
Vila stated, “We are doing reasonably well, although we won’t be sure until the research is complete.”
In all, Vila is a valuable asset to Shepherd University. Students and faculty alike enjoy working with him, and he enjoys working at the school. As he said, “It’s amazing to be in a place that is so active, where things are happening, and where students are really into what they are doing.