Glenn Proudfoot's love for the natural world is stronger than the setbacks nature has dealt him.
Proudfoot, a 1991 Central Lakes College graduate, has survived seven days in a coma, a heart attack and back surgery. Rather than dwelling on his recovery, the Texas A & M University research scientist prefers traveling to the mountains of west central Mexico to study pygmy owls.
Today, he is an award-winning doctoral candidate appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species recovery team.
Jan. 8, Proudfoot received the Vice Chancellor's Award for Research Excellence -- the highest graduate research award offered at Texas A & M.
This Proudfoot isn't too proud to admit that in 1989 he almost wasn't accepted for admission to CLC. "It wasn't surprising," he said, "because I had never read a book from cover to cover."
He was too busy outdoors, reading signs from the natural world missed by those in life's fast lane. "I have always had an interest in wildlife and their interactions," he said.
At age 5, Proudfoot was introduced to hands-on wildlife rehabilitation when his father brought three young raccoons home from work. "Dad found them beside the road. Their mother had been hit by a motorist." After the raccoons were old enough to leave, a pen full of pigeons in the family's back yard replaced them.
Years later, when the family moved to a more urban part of town, Proudfoot obtained a falconry permit. He was a falconer at age 15.
"I had a red-tailed hawk and an American kestrel falcon for a couple of years and a northern goshawk for a short time," he recalled, describing his success at trapping raptors at Hawk Ridge near Duluth.
Among his favorite raptors today is the endangered ferruginous pygmy owl he spent years studying as a research associate. The job came after earning a master of science degree and before the awarding of a five-year Sloan Fellowship at Texas A & M.
Proudfoot was named Outstanding Doctoral Student in 2000-2001 at the 50,000-student university. He serves as a consultant to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan in Arizona and his research has generated more than 20 articles in scientific journals.
This summer he expects to have finished the academic credentialing with a PhD in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences.
All this comes from a man who turned to higher education after "14 years working in dead-end jobs." He had applied for admission in the CLC natural resources program in 1974 only to learn he was No. 300 on the waiting list.
Fifteen years later, in 1989, doors began to open. At age 34 he enrolled in the Brainerd natural resources program.
"I'm on my fourth school now," said the 47-year-old Morris native, "and I consider the natural resources program at Brainerd to be one of the best. In a field like ours, you can't beat the hands-on experience."
He attributes success to CLC instructors Gary Carson and Doug Keran.
"They provided more than the basics in a manner that promoted learning."
One example: Carson's dendrology class. "Of all the scientific names I have tried to memorize over the past 13 years, the only ones etched forever into my gray matter are the ones I was required to learn in Gary Carson's class. He quizzed us every day and tested us every week. There wasn't a student in that class who couldn't identify and give the scientific name for at least 50 trees and shrubs."
At one point Proudfoot wondered if he would have any memory.
After graduating with high honors from CLC, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. But a motorcycle accident left him in a seven-day coma. Despite doctor's orders he went back to school the next semester, taking 15 credits.
Memory loss was a side effect of medication. His grade-point average sank, but he moved a step closer to his undergraduate degree.
During a North Dakota research project on fauna of wetland ecosystems the following summer, Proudfoot had a heart attack. He underwent angioplasty and spent a week in recovery.
He went back the next semester and in December of 1993 earned his degree in biology with a minor in wildlife management.
Three years later, having caught the eye of Texas A & M officials, Proudfoot landed a coveted research assistantship for the endangered owl study.
"I've been lucky enough to remain fairly active in the field of raptor research," he said.
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