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Merritt retires,
keeps researching
Posted May 6, 2005
Professor of Zoology Dan Merritt has been doing research to test pollution in the water from Puddingstone Lake. Besides testing water, Merritt likes to photograph diatoms, which he said produce more than half of the oxygen on earth.
Andres Rivera
Staff Writer

After more than 36 years of teaching, Sheridan Merritt will be retiring this year leaving his post as professor of zoology and ending his time doing what he enjoyed most about the teaching process, getting in touch with his students.

“He was a very strong voice in faculty governance,” Jeffery Burkhart, professor of biology, said. “He was a wonderful mentor to this student, that will be difficult to replace.”

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Merritt received his bachelor’s and master’s in zoology and oceanography in Oregon State University and his doctorate in zoology and history of science at the University of Wisconsin.

He taught science in a community college in Wisconsin and has worked for two years (1998-2000) as a project manager for a non-profit environmental education organization.

He joined the University of La Verne staff in 1969. Not always teaching the basic biology and zoology courses ranging from the freshman level to major level, Merritt created courses of his own. Some of these courses include Science and Society, Natural History of Baja California, Social Ecology of a Mexican Village, Environmental Management and has developed CORE courses with other staff members.

Of the courses created, a few of them have been field study courses.

Natural History of Baja California is one of the field courses created which was available during the January interterm. In this course, students would live in a nearby community or on the beach for two to three weeks.

“I created Natural History of Baja to take students into an area where they can see and experience nature where it has not been altered,” Merritt said.

“Wadding out into the pools and discovering the incredible array of organisms making their lives there is a really moving experience and we are able to experience that over and over again,” he added.

Through the field courses that Merritt and his students embarked on were adventures where anything could happen. Unlike the traditional classroom setting, the field studies welcom the unexpected.

“In the field courses, living together in remote areas sharing responsibilities and going out exploring together in the environment, those kinds of situations have been very rewarding,” Merritt said. “Because the students and I have come to know each other on a lot of levels and the opportunities to share surprises and discoveries in nature have been a rich part of my experience.”

Merritt’s teaching style has adapted in accordance to the type of class.

Classes, which are heavily based on facts, tend to have been traditional whereas other courses including field courses have been more relaxed in teaching style.

“I can tell when the atmosphere changes in the class,” Merritt said.

A constant struggle in any teaching environment has been trying to connect with his students. This is one of the aspects about teaching Merritt said he will miss.

Merritt and Professor of Management Rita Thakur created and have team-taught a core 340 course, since 1996, dealing with ecology and its management.

“We became full-time the same year,” Harvey Good, professor of biology, said. “It has been fun to work with him, seeing the department grow and the caliber of students it produced. He established a real strong program.”

Apart from exploring in the physical sense, Merritt will continue to explore his inner self. He practices meditation and is aware of the greater understanding that can be found even as a man of science.

“Through mediation and reflection, we discover more fundamental truths about ourselves and about the world around us,” Merritt said.

Once retired, Merritt plans on continuing his adventure into the philosophical world as well as the natural world.

He plans to continue researching water pollution in the watershed and to spend some time doing non-technical writing. Merritt also plans on building a house in the forest using many approaches for keeping a sustainable environment.

Andres Rivera can be reached at