Meet Paul Runnels

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Paul Runnels. Since 2013, Paul has been one of the CIS volunteers who makes the Science Club at Edison Environmental Science Academy so successful.

Like other volunteers who have supported the Science Club since its 2003 inception, Paul brings to bear his talents, skills, and passion for science. And he has quite the science background! After obtaining his bachelor of pre-med at DePauw University, he studied veterinarian medicine at Purdue University. He then pursued his doctorate in veterinarian pathology at Iowa State University. While in graduate school he did research work for the National Animal Disease Center.

Paul moved to Kalamazoo in 2003 when Pfizer moved its Animal Health headquarters from Connecticut to Kalamazoo. [In 2013, Pfizer spun off this unit into Zoetis. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals in more than 100 countries.] Retired since 2016 from Zoetis, this clinical research veterinarian is helping to inspire a new generation of scientists.

An avid biker, Paul also serves on the board of Open Roads, which use bicycles as a vehicle to engage and empower young people in the community to develop skills for their future. He is also part of the cyclist riding group, known as The Chain Gang. Back in 2016, he was one of the nine cyclists struck by a pickup truck. Five died, and Paul, along with three others, were severely injured. We’re thankful that Paul has recovered and is once again volunteering and biking.

Alright, Paul: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

Researchers have found that asking children questions about their surroundings while encouraging and extending their explorations of their world can help them improve their general knowledge and science achievement. That’s what you all do as volunteers who facilitate the Science Club at Edison.

All the kids absorb the information like sponges. My only wish is we could do Science Club more often, and with more kids!

Scientists are curious and tend to ask good questions. What is a question you’ve asked recently?

We just did a recent section with the Science Club around water filtration. We had the students make their own bio filters. We gave them a small amount of tiny gravel, some sand, some activated charcoal, and peat moss. The coffee filters were then used to cap the end of a water bottle. We had filled them up with pond water and they ran the water through filters. The water was running painfully slow. So the question we posed to the kids was: Why are these filters running so slow?

How wonderful that the Science Club gives students the opportunity to do such interesting hands-on learning.

And this year, CIS, with a grant from Zoetis, bought some really good microscopes.

We asked students to imagine that Teresa’s dog, Cash, went out and drank some pond water and got sick. We want to figure out why Cash got sick, and figure out how to treat it. [Teresa Miller, another member of the volunteer team that helps facilitate the Science Club was recently featured on our blog, here.]

A week before meeting with the students, we had collected some pond water and so we put two or three drops on the slides. Usually, you see one or two things underneath the scope. The students are working in small groups and looking at the drops under the microscope when zoop! Something went back and forth across the field. Bigger than anything we’d ever seen.

What was that?

I have no idea! We’d never seen it before. I assume it was some type of larval insect. It got everybody excited, even me!

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect to volunteering?

Interacting with the kids. I love it. As an old guy, it’s wonderful to be around all that energy.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do woodworking. I’m teaching myself to cut dovetails. I’m getting there but I’m not yet really good at it. Matt Krautmann [Krautmann also volunteered for several years with the Science Club], does a good deal of wood working and has been helpful in this endeavor. I was recently gluing the base of a table and the joints didn’t fit perfectly. I respect Matt’s work ethic and creative thinking. I learned from him that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

If we could talk about the 2016 incident in which you were seriously injured…after having experienced such a horrific event, was it scary getting back on the bike and ride again?

No, it wasn’t. Because I was determined. I had been laying in the hospital bed, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to even walk. After some weeks, as I grew stronger, I knew I would do it.

What did you learn from this whole experience?

The biggest thing I learned is the importance of the support of the community. Not just the biking community, but also Kalamazoo, and the broader community, and all the encouragement and strength they shared with us. I’m grateful to the first responders and the medical community. I also learned how amazingly resilient the human body is.

[With money raised, the Chain Gang connected with Kalamazoo sculptor Joshua Diedrich who created a memorial to those who lost their lives and to honor the survivors. The piece is installed at Markin Glen Park. To learn more about the artist’s process and to see additional photos of the monument, go here.]

Image courtesy of Joshua Diedrich

What are you currently reading? 

I just finished Deep State by James B. Stewart. He also happened to be my college roommate. We went to DePauw University.

Your roommate became quite a successful author. What was he like back then?

He was a very engaged individual who is very bright. When we were in school he was a campus leader. He got into journalism and became the editor of the school paper. He went on to Harvard for law school, became a lawyer, and ended up writing about the Wall Street insider trading scandals of the 80s. That book, Den of Thieves, won the Pulitzer. And Heart of a Soldier is another of his books I really like.

What is your favorite word right now?

Resilience.

What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

Taking a winter vacation in Hawaii. My wife and I spend the month of February in Hawaii. It’s a perk of retirement.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My parents. My dad was one of the vets in the town of Darlington, Indiana, that I grew up in. He mostly worked on farm animals and also did small animals more as a service than as a passion. He did that for 20 or so years and then joined the staff at Purdue for another 25 years. He was very busy as a small town, practicing vet. He’d get called out at any time of the day or night. The local telephone company was his answering phone when he was at church. That was his one undisturbed hour of the week. And though busy, he made time to be supportive and come to the events we were involved in. Both my parents did.

Thank you, Paul, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.