Faculty Spotlight: Ron Dinchak, Life Science

Posted on October 2, 2012 by Sally Mesarosh

Ron DinchakRon Dinchak’s passionate commitment to the environment spills out of the classroom and into the surrounding community. In Ron’s 40 years of teaching at Mesa Community College, he has influenced thousands of students and community members on the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle. He is dedicated to teaching others about the Sonoran Desert ecosystem and water conservation.

Campus Involvement

On campus, Ron teaches courses in Environmental Biology, Natural History of the Southwest and guides students as they volunteer for service learning field experiences within private/public agencies and citizen volunteer groups. Ron has developed a campus greenhouse to provide students with hands-on sustainable gardening experiences and opportunities to conduct research on propagation of native desert plants. He also serves as the advisor for the Environmental Action Club.  His field trips and science camps to the San Pedro River, Mount Baldy and other areas in Arizona are extremely popular with students and allow him to share his love of the environment outside of the classroom.

Ron continually stresses the importance of students sharing their burgeoning environmental knowledge with others, especially younger students. Every semester he organizes science outreach days, which bring thousands of local elementary students to the MCC campus for a fun and educational science experience and provide teaching opportunities for MCC students.

Community Outreach

Ron’s community outreach expands even further. In the ‘80s, long before the average person worried about their carbon footprint, Ron taught water conservation classes for the cities of Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, and Scottsdale. Thousands of community members have taken his classes on landscape planning and design at the Desert Botanical Garden and the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. Ron has designed hundreds of Valley landscapes, earning him several awards. Local water conservationists consider him a pioneer in the field of desert landscaping and applaud the influence he has had on changing attitudes toward the use of more low-water plants and trees.

One of Ron’s most important community projects is MCC’s award-winning Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. The garden was a joint venture between MCC, the Salt River Project and the City of Mesa.  Ron and Paul Freestone, City of Mesa water conservation specialist, co-chaired the project. The one-acre garden, dedicated on Earth Day in 1989, uses low-water-use landscape techniques to provide an attractive exterior in arid climates. It also serves as a lab for students studying ethnobotany, water conservation, and basic landscape design. MCC faculty, staff, students and community volunteers donated hundreds of hours of labor to the effort. The garden was the first Xeriscape Garden in the Valley and the second in the state of Arizona. The Garden was the recipient of Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden’s Community Service Award in 1990.

In addition to his work involving water conservation, Ron is an active member of National Wildlife Federation and attends NWF Summits throughout the country. He works closely with Arizona Game & Fish to provide his students with information and volunteer opportunities. Ron delivers volunteer lectures and workshops for local schools, garden clubs, women's and men's clubs, and many other non-profit organizations.
 

Degrees, Publications and Awards

Ron holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and a Master of Science degree in plant physiology from Arizona State University. He has completed graduate studies at Brigham Young University, University of Arizona, Colorado State University, University of Bridgeport Connecticut, Southern Utah University, Western Washington University, University of Vermont, Alaska Pacific University, and the University of Hawaii, Hilo.

In 1989, Ron’s involvement with the Xeriscape Garden won him the Innovator of the Year Award from the Maricopa Community College District. In 1993, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association honored Ron with the Xeriscape Innovator of the Year award. Ron received the MCC Outstanding Community Service Award/Employee of the Year Award in 1997, followed by the Teacher of the Year in 2002. In 2007, Ron was awarded the MCC Faculty Excellence Award.

Ron’s appreciation for the Sonoran Desert led to his publication of "An Illustrated Guide to the Landscape Trees of Southern Arizona" and "An Illustrated Guide to the Landscape Shrubs of Southern Arizona," released in 1981. Ron has also authored laboratory manuals and co-authored manuscripts for biology courses. He has written a xeriscape manual and landscape articles for several magazines including Fine Gardening and American Horticulturist. Ron publishes low-cost manuals for the students who enroll in his courses.

Corki Stewart, an education faculty member at MCC, said Ron’s work and dedication exemplifies education at its best. She recently collaborated with him on a community outreach event that brought special education students to MCC.

“Ron Dinchak opens doors for students of all ages, and boosts their thinking to a higher level, regardless of where they start,” Stewart said.

Ron said working with young people keeps him young. “I know I’ve made a difference in a lot of people’s lives and that’s what we are here for, not just me, but all MCC faculty,” Ron stated.