Climate scientist to lead College of Letters and Sciences

April 23, 2013

David TravisDavid Travis, a climate scientist who has won international attention for his research on jet contrails, has been named dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at UW-Whitewater.

Travis has been associate dean of the college since 2005. He will move into the college's top job July 15, replacing Dean Mary Pinkerton, who is retiring.

"We're already moving in a great direction in the college,'' Travis said.  "A number of new and exciting things are happening."

"I am delighted that Dr. Travis will continue the tradition of strong leadership in the College of Letters and Sciences,'' Provost Beverly Kopper said. "Dean Pinkerton has positioned the college well and I am confident that Dr. Travis will continue to move the college forward in new and innovative ways."

Travis said he hopes to continue the college's leadership in liberal arts while enhancing classroom technology and improving faculty diversity. He would like to find more room for the sciences, perhaps by expanding Upham Hall, and develop more interdisciplinary programs like the college's popular new environmental science major.

"We need to continue to find ways to become more entrepreneurial,'' Travis said. "We need to generate revenue beyond what taxpayer dollars provide us."

As associate dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, he oversees the budget, professional development of faculty and staff members, and facilities.  He was responsible for the $19 million renovation of the building now known as Laurentide Hall, the new home of the college.

Travis received bachelor's and master's degrees in geography from the University of Georgia in Athens.  He earned his Ph.D. in geography with an emphasis on atmospheric sciences from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1994, then joined the faculty at UW-Whitewater. He is a professor in the Department of Geography and Geology.

He has stayed at UW-Whitewater, he said, because of its people.

"I feel like we're large enough to be a university that has a substantial impact on students,'' he said. "But we're small enough that we can get to know the students and each other.  You can feel the impact you have on students here."

He received international attention, which he calls "my 15 minutes of fame" for his research on jet contrails during the three-day ban on air traffic after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  He and his colleagues found a significant shift in the range of surface temperatures in the absence of the jet vapors.

Those findings became the fifth most-reported story in the world during the week they were published in the science journal Nature, according to a media tracking report.

David TravisTravis has been the author or co-author of more than 20 peer-reviewed articles on climate change, remote sensing and GIS applications to climate research. He has received grants totaling more than $500,000 for his research, teaching and curricular innovations.

He continues to collaborate with colleagues on climate research and will speak in England this summer at an environmental sustainability conference.

Travis cheerfully identifies himself as "a weather geek" and records official data each morning at his Cottage Grove home for the National Weather Service.  He helped establish the campus weather station at UW-Whitewater and is proud of its professional quality and public accessibility.

He served previously as associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education and chair of the Department of Geography and Geology.  He has been a member of the Faculty Senate and college committees on professional development, online courses and faculty recruitment. He was the first coordinator of UW-Whitewater's successful Learning Communities, which now welcome nearly 500 freshmen each year.

Travis received the 2005-06 University Outstanding Teaching Award at UW-Whitewater. In 2001, he won the College of Letters and Sciences award for excellence in research.

He is affiliated with the National Council for Science and the Environment and serves as UW-Whitewater's representative to that group.  He also represents the university on UW System committees.

Travis is a past president of the Wisconsin Geographical Society, has been an officer of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium and reviews research for many professional publications and organizations, including the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, International Journal of Climate and the National Science Foundation.

He and his wife, Susan, have a daughter, Samantha, 16, and son, Ben, 13.  In his spare time, Travis plays racquetball and coaches his son's soccer team.


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri

Photography by Craig Schreiner