Lunch with David Sunderlin

Bonnie Alger

Lawrence geology fellow Dave Sunderlin has been doing a lot of traveling recently. He just returned from the annual meeting of the Geology Society of America in Salt Lake City, where he presented a project on geoscience education. According to Sunderlin, this huge conference was “totally opposite” from the “very specialized” meeting he attended in Albuquerque for researchers studying Pangaea. “There were about 50 people there. I presented a poster on how vegetation has changed through time,” he said.
Sunderlin’s interest in geology stemmed from a childhood curiosity about biology. As a preschooler, he asked his artist grandmother to paint a picture of a woolly mammoth for him. “Who knew that years later I’d be teaching about woolly mammoths?” he exclaimed.
A native of Pennsylvania, Sunderlin began his college career at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., as a biology major. Midway through college, he took a paleontology class and decided to add a geology major. He was able to complete both majors in four years and went on to attend the University of Chicago for graduate school. “Chicago has a tremendous paleontology program; maybe London has more paleontologists,” Sunderlin said. For his thesis he combined fieldwork with Chicago’s style of studying geology.
Sunderlin is currently teaching The Ice Ages and will be teaching Introduction to Paleontology next term and Surficial Processes in the spring.
Becoming a full-time college professor is his eventual goal, making the Lawrence fellowship an ideal stepping-stone for him. “The program was so innovative,” Sunderlin said of his first impressions of Lawrence. He jumped at the opportunity for a “nice transitional position to full-time [at a] liberal arts school.” He was impressed by the academic environment here. “The geology department was so open and welcoming and lively,” he said, “a healthy place to be for a while. The students had a lot of great questions on their own.” Of course, as with most of the fellows, Sunderlin had a Lawrence connection before becoming a fellow. “My wife knew [music history fellow] Daniel Barolsky at Chicago,” he said.
Sunderlin’s choice mode of transportation to get to campus each day is his bike. “It’s about 1.81 miles – a 10-minute ride,” he said. And, like several of the other fellows, he owns a dog. Her name is Luna, “like the moon. She’s a black giant schnauzer, 75 pounds, and a licking fanatic. She can’t stop licking open skin. It’s a like a mental problem!” he laughed.
In his spare time, Sunderlin enjoys boating – “anything that’s human- or wind-powered, I’m into” – and baseball. “Everyone around here is a Cubs fan. I’m one of the few White Sox fans in the world,” he lamented. He also enjoys being outdoors. “Basically, I just like wandering around in the woods.”
To find out more about Dave Sunderlin’s hobbies and interests, you should stop by his office in Youngchild 211. Hanging on the wall you will find a painting of a woolly mammoth – the very one his grandmother made for him when he was a child.