For nearly 20 years, Dr. Bradley Reynolds has been a member of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Science faculty.
It is virtually impossible to talk to him without asking about the nickname he bestowed upon himself: The “King of Environmental Science.”
“I call myself that jokingly, but I really am devoted to environmental science,” said Reynolds, a senior lecturer. “These environmental problems aren’t going away until we address them, conquer them and rise above them. We want to make sure that our students have the scientific and technical expertise they need to get the jobs they want.
“It’s that next generation of up-and-coming environmental scientists that will be trying to tackle these environmental problems that plague modern society. We’re training an army to go out and to be on the front lines of environmental reform and come up with solutions.”
As a non-tenure-track faculty member, Reynolds does not have formal research expectations, “but I still dabble in it.”
Teaching, he said, is his focus.
“The classroom is where I’m most at home and where I really belong, which is amazing—considering that teaching was not something I originally sought to do.”
Reynolds’ original career path was pharmacy school, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Tennessee Wesleyan College (now Tennessee Wesleyan University) in 1996.
After graduation, “I needed a job, and I wanted one using my chemistry degree,” he said. The Chattanooga State Community College chemistry department was looking for a teaching technician, and “I applied for it and I got it.”
A funny thing then happened. Reynolds realized that he was good at teaching.
“I’m not sure I ever really picked teaching; it feels more like teaching picked me,” he said. “People used to say to me, ‘Brad, what do you want to do with your life?’ I would say, ‘Anything but teach,’ but I realized pretty quickly that I had an aptitude for it.
“I found out I was a natural teacher. I was strong in front of a classroom and I just fell in love with it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Reynolds taught at Chatt State for five years. He also spent time on the student side of the ledger, pursuing a master’s in environmental science at UTC—and earning a degree in 2003.
The following year, he joined the UTC faculty—meaning that the 2023-2024 academic year will be his 20th at the University and his 25th overall in Chattanooga.
“I was barely 25 when I started teaching at Chattanooga State, so I have been here half my life,” he said. “I think about that all the time. To do anything for 25 years boggles the mind. How time flies, how it goes by. Then I think about it not so much in terms of the years but more in terms of the people that I’ve reached, the lives I’ve impacted and the careers I’ve helped launch.”
As a UTC faculty member, Reynolds pursued—and completed in 2013—a Doctorate of Education in Learning and Leadership. His dissertation research focused on reptiles and amphibians and investigated the impact of transformational leadership, experiential learning and reflective journaling on the conservation ethic of non-science majors.
“I think it’s good to go back and take a class every now and again if you can work it in and fit it in,” he said, “because very quickly we forget what it’s like to be on that side of the podium.
“It replenished and refreshed me as an educator because I was able to see things from the perspective of the student again—and that changed the way I related to my students.”
At various times during his teaching career, Reynolds has co-taught a tropical ecology course with Professor of Biology David Aborn.
Aborn talked about birds of tropical forests, reptiles and insects; Reynolds covered the evolution of rainforests and rainforest conservation.
“We were both interested in learning from each other,” Aborn said, “so I sat in on his lectures and he sat in on mine.”
They even took classes to Costa Rica at the end of the semester so the students could see first-hand the lectures come to life.
“Brad is just exceptional in every way,” Aborn said. “He’s a gifted teacher and the students in his classes just adore him. There’s always a line of students outside of his office coming to talk about things they discussed or for career advice.
“He’s extremely collegial. He’s happy to help out whenever asked if another faculty member needs help, and he’s always very giving of his time. He even engages in research when that’s not an expectation for non-tenured-track faculty. He just has that level of interest in environmental science that he wants to engage in research and mentor graduate students and things of that nature.”
Added Reynolds, “It was wonderful to see Dr. Aborn in action because that’s how I have become a proper lecturer and a proper teacher myself—by watching others that are good and by emulating what they do.”
Reynolds said he tries to make his lectures engaging and conversational, which is how the King of Environmental Science title came about.
“It’s really strange … if you call yourself something long enough, it will start to catch on,” he said.
“I’ve been calling myself the King of Environmental Science for many years, and the students just think it’s hilarious that I call myself that. They never know what I’m going to say or what kind of personal story I’m going to tell in order to make the material come alive—and that keeps them engaged.”