Zoology Researcher, Author Models Teaching Methods After Oswego Professor

For Steve Sheffield ’78, SUNY Oswego was, at first, just another college—far enough away from his home in Syracuse. That is, of course, until Sheffield met Al Lackey, then a zoology professor at SUNY Oswego, who jump-started Sheffield’s passion for zoology.

Steve Sheffield ’78 (right) and Dr. Ma Ming, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences,  pose at the 4,000 meter mark in the Tran Shen Mountain range outside of Urumgi Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China.

Steve Sheffield ’78 (right) and Dr. Ma Ming, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences,
pose at the 4,000 meter mark in the Tran Shen Mountain range outside of Urumgi Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China.

Not knowing what career path to pursue, and two years into sampling courses, Sheffield enrolled in an invertebrate zoology course spring semester of his junior year.

The professor? Al Lackey.

“He challenged us,” Sheffield says. “The way he taught and the difficulty of the class pushed us to do well.”

Lackey and his students would travel to Williamstown, N.Y., 20 miles east of Oswego, to conduct surveys and assessments on mammals, reptiles, amphibians, grasses and shrubs. Students learned sampling techniques and how to take good field notes.

“Lackey took care of the logistics,” Sheffield says. “He would drive us out to our field work without question, while recognizing students who were interested. He went the extra mile.“

Since graduating from Oswego, Sheffield has completed plenty of his own field studies, researching lead and pesticide exposure and effects on small mammals, including those that live in grape vineyards in Xinjiang, China.

Sheffield eventually turned to academia, earning a Ph.D. in zoology, with an applied aspect in environmental toxicology. Now as a professor in field biology for 10 years, Sheffield hopes to influence his students at Bowie State and Virginia Tech the way Lackey did.

“I get my students out in the field,” Sheffield says. “They get to trap mammals and experience field-related activities that were provided to me by Dr. Lackey.”

To influence future zoology students and researchers, Sheffield has been working on a book, The Mammals of Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia, which will be published in 2016. Sheffield hopes the book will inform and provoke interest in field biology all over the country for years to come.

“Without the professors I had at Oswego, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Sheffield says.

—Ryan Haas ’15

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