"These were amazing trips!" Ambrose wrote in a letter submitted to the Academic Senate’s teaching awards committee. "Phil’s enthusiasm for desert ecology and plant physiological ecology as well as [his] spirit of adventure made these a career-defining moment for everyone involved. In fact, most of the participants in these informal field trips have gone on to become professor biologists or teachers."
Rundel and his students eat lunch and rest during a field trip to Mount Pinos north of Los Angeles. It was on Rundel's fabled field trips, former students said, that they got hooked on science and nature.
Searching the desert or Asian rain forest for birds and plants under Rundel’s lead, students marveled at his vast knowledge as a consummate field biologist "ever teaching, … patiently guiding them to explore, discover and share his love of the flora of any particular area," said Peter Narins, Distinguished Professor, who co-taught the popular Field Biology Quarter program
at UCLA with Rundel for three years when they took students to La Selva, Costa Rica; Mae-Sa Valley, Thailand; and Khao Yai National Park, Thailand.
While Rundel said he’s gratified by the success of many of his former students-turned-scientists —Life Sciences Dean Victoria Sork among them — he said he is also happy to have influenced students who have not gone on to scientific careers to think differently about the environment.
And that group includes more than 3,000 schoolchildren from all over Los Angeles who annually visit the UCLA Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve
, where Rundel serves as faculty director. For thousands of kids from South and East Los Angeles, as well as other parts of the city, it is their very first up-close encounter with nature.
"From the beginning, my philosophy has been to stimulate students to develop their own creative thinking by conveying to them the excitement of science and the significance, as well as personal satisfaction, that comes with knowledge and new understandings," said Rundel, summing up his long teaching career.
"I felt and continue to feel very strongly that a scientifically literate public is of critical importance in our modern society. This goal has permeated my entire career, not just in the formal courses … but in my active interest in public outreach at local, national and international levels."