Dr. Bill Parker, professor emeritus of biology, grew up in a St. Louis household that valued the breadth of educational and cultural exposure. It was a lesson he’s never forgotten.
“My family encouraged diverse interests,” he recalled. “We were exposed to art and music and languages as well as the sciences.” Those interests have stayed with him throughout his career and retirement from The W.
Originally interested in archaeology, he attended Wabash College, an all-male liberal arts college in Indiana. There, he came to understand the value of a liberal arts education. “I saw liberal arts as a way to be a better citizen” he said. “It offers broad views of learning and encourages continued learning.”
After earning a master’s degree at Arizona State University and a doctorate from the University of Utah, Dr. Parker in 1974 began a 33-year tenure as a biology professor, and for six years, division head, at The W. “A position at MUW attracted me with its smaller size and liberal arts orientation, as I had attended a small liberal arts college,” he said. “MUW placed a premium on faculty who demonstrated not only teaching excellence, but also other service to the university, professional activity and community involvement.”
Noting that he had attended large state universities for graduate studies, as well as a small undergraduate college, he said, “I saw how important it is to learn names and to learn something about each student. The W’s smaller size really provides an opportunity for personalized relations between faculty members and students and as an excellent way of encouraging lifelong learning, but learning with breadth.”
As a way of supporting the student experience at The W, Dr. Parker recently has contributed $20,000 to establish the Dr. William S. Parker Scholarship Fund. Scholarship preference will be given to a junior or senior biological sciences major who demonstrates financial need and who has a minimum grade point average of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale.
“I wanted to see scholarship support for students who need scholarship support but may not otherwise qualify,” he explained. “I taught some students who were as good as Centennial Scholars but didn’t meet initial qualifications. This scholarship gives the department flexibility to support students who show promise or dedication to the field.
“I have served and been served by MUW most of my adult life,” he continued. “Some of my best friends are graduates of MUW, and I keep in touch with many others. It thus gives me great pleasure to initiate a biology scholarship at MUW in hopes of positively affecting the careers of future students in our field of choice.”
“The W is so grateful for Dr. Parker’s generosity in establishing this scholarship,” said Andrea Stevens, executive director of development and alumni. “His students have told me that he was more than just a professor to them. He was genuinely interested in each student and their success beyond the classroom. It’s obvious he touched and inspired students, many of whom credit him with their success. This scholarship will continue to support student success.”
While at The W, Dr. Parker modeled some of the values of the liberal arts that have grounded his education, teaching career and retirement. He was a listener and board officer for the Contact Helpline in Columbus for 12 years. While carrying the required teaching load, he also did summer research for 18 years, including field work on turtle and lizard populations and also wrote review papers and book chapters in his field of reptile ecology. In 1990, he became the managing editor of the international Journal of Herpetology, a position he held for 15 years through 60 issues of the publication.
In 1992, he accepted a position as division head of science and mathematics, “something I thought I would never do until the time came for it to happen,” he said. “This gave me an opportunity to better understand the workings of the university as a whole and to have greater influence on curriculum, academic standards and recognition of accomplishments by faculty and students.” His wife, Dr. Elisabeth Wells-Parker, then a faculty member at Mississippi State University, strongly influenced him to take the position.
Though Dr. Parker retired in 2007, his commitment to learning, exploration and discovery has not diminished. His travels have taken him to 25 countries, primarily in Latin America and northern Europe. He has hiked and photographed countries as varied as Canada, Iceland and Ecuador. Continuing his emphasis on volunteerism, he returns to The W to help with the annual Science Bowl, and he has served as a photographer for animal shelters in Aberdeen and West Point. As part of the local West Point Arts Council and Friends of the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, he has conducted and judged some of their photography competitions.
Nor has he forgotten scholarly interests. He continues to publish papers in his field, now totaling about 50. His undergraduate alma mater, Wabash, recently relocated a research study he conducted as a senior project in 1964. As a result, Dr. Parker collaborated with a current Wabash faculty member to produce an article published in March 2016 in the Journal of North American Herpetology based primarily on his undergraduate work.
A talented photographer, he credits free weekends during his three years of Army service (1967-70) for fostering what has become a passion. “I gained some skills then and developed something of ‘an eye,’” he said. While he started photographing wildflowers originally, his subjects now include nature, architecture, animals and abstract scenes. “I want some art in my photos,” he said. “I look for the abstract when I can.” His Flickr site has nearly 14,000 photos taken close to home and in distant locations. And he has sharpened his eye by taking photography courses taught by Shawn Dickey, head of The W’s art department.
Dr. Bill Parker is the embodiment of the rich rewards of a liberal arts education. And that’s what his scholarship and his message to students emphasize. “I have two granddaughters,” he said. “While they may not major in science, my hope for them is that they become broadly educated, too.”
Contributions may be made to the Dr. William S. Parker Scholarship Fund to continue the legacy of making a difference in students’ lives. Contact Andrea Stevens, executive director of development and alumni, (662) 329-7148.