Texas Tech University

Associate Professor Finds Beauty in the Botanics

Amanda Bowman

May 5, 2021

Susan Tomlinson received a 2021 Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

In February, the Texas Tech University System announced its 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards to honor outstanding faculty members who provide exceptional opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting the seven Texas Tech University faculty members who were recognized.

There are some things in nature that people find inherently beautiful, like roses, a stunning sunset or certain species of birds. Susan Tomlinson, an associate dean in the Honors College and an associate professor in the college's Environment and the Humanities Program, seeks to find the beauty in certain native Texas botanical species that may be overlooked.

When the world shut down last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tomlinson showed her students how to draw things from nature for their journals during the lockdown. Her love and creativity for art earned Tomlinson the 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching Award. 

The Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards are given to individuals who exemplify teaching or research excellence, have significantly advanced teaching or research efforts and are noted as leaders among colleagues and in their respective fields. Established in 2001, they are the highest honors given to Texas Tech University System faculty members.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society? 

I use botanical art as a means of documenting and drawing attention to different species, helping people take a closer look at them than they might normally do. Often, this brings focus to lesser-known native species, but it also can bring a greater appreciation to economically important plants that we take for granted, such as cotton.

What projects are you working on at this time? 

I am working on a botanical art book project about cotton and another project documenting the different species of Proboscidea (devil's claw) in the Trans-Pecos region.

What areas are you interested in for future research? 

I am interested in doing a botanical art book on under-appreciated Texas native plants.

What rewards do you get from teaching? 

There is nothing I have found that is more professionally satisfying than seeing students' eyes opened to the natural world.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia? 

Curiosity about the natural world.

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching? 

My college in particular has been very supportive, encouraging me to develop courses that reflect my scholarly interests and providing travel money to national conferences. Texas Tech also has granted me development leave in order to work on my research.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why? 

This is hard to narrow down to just one person. There have been many mentors and people who have helped me along the way. But if I had to pick just one person, it would be my husband, Walter Schaller, who also is an academic and a retired professor of philosophy. He has always supported my efforts and frequently given me good advice (after I have asked for it).