Rex Hanger, a professor in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, will serve as keynote speaker at the 2019 Winter Commencement, to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, at Kachel Fieldhouse.
Affectionately known as the “Fossil Guy,” he’s taken hundreds of students on paleontological digs over his 20 years at UW-Whitewater, securing support from NASA and other sources to fund them. He is adamant about immersing his students in out-of-the-classroom experiences, with the guiding principle of “The best geologists are the ones who have seen the most rocks.”
It’s the kind of experience that gets UW-Whitewater students noticed by the Smithsonian Institution. In 2016, geology major Melanie Sorman, a student in Hanger’s program, became his fourth student — more than any faculty member in the U.S. — to head to Washington, D.C., and participate in the museum’s Natural History Research Experiences. Sorman also became the university’s third Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, a prestigious national scholarship awarded annually to students pursuing research-oriented careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.
But it’s not just Hanger’s students who are garnering attention for their work.
In 2018, UW-Whitewater awarded Hanger its highest academic accolade: the W.P. Roseman Excellence in Teaching Award. And in 2019 the UW System Board of Regents named him as one of two 2019 Regents Teaching Excellence Individual Award recipients.
An Army brat who was born in Germany but grew up in Texas, Hanger received a B.S. and M.S. in geology from Texas A&M University and a Ph.D. in paleontology and integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley.
In his teaching career, first at George Washington University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then at UW-Whitewater, he has been a strong advocate of high-impact practices that support student success and inclusive excellence goals, particularly gender equity in the natural sciences. He has mentored 56 undergraduate researchers, of whom nearly 75% were female and two were McNair Scholars. Seventeen of these students went on to receive research internship awards, primarily in research museums.
And Hanger is constantly striving to find new and innovative ways to actively engage and challenge his students.
“I love to teach [General Education] courses just as much as my upper-level ones, because it is there that I can have the broadest impact, imparting a knowledge and love of the Earth to students from all majors. My challenge now is to extend these high-impact practices to all of my students.”
Hanger lives in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, with his wife, Melissa Lynn Hanger, and his son, Craig Alan Hanger.