Retired CMU Professor Gives Back in a Big Way

The 8-foot sculpture of a praying mantis on the CMU Wubben Hall and Science Center is more than just another piece of art. It is both anatomically and proportionately correct, which was important to the person who commissioned a CMU graduate to create it.

The praying mantis is CMU Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences Bruce Bauerle’s gift to CMU, which he hopes will be the spark that makes the campus unique. Bauerle, who retired last year, readily concedes that CMU already is a campus with facilities that rival those of just about any university. It is a campus full of handsome buildings, both new and old. He just wants to take it to the next level.

“We have a beautiful campus, now we need to make it a unique campus. Now we need something that makes our campus different from others.” The praying mantis is the beginning of that process. What’s more, the $25,000 he spent on the sculpture was matched and an endowment bearing the Bauerle name was created.

“I wanted something that said the biology building was the biology building,” Bauerle said. “We have a great department.”

The praying mantis was not his original idea. What he had in mind initially was a giant spider. He abandoned that, though, when “some people told me that students might not go inside the building with a big spider on it.”

Thus the praying mantis.

Bruce Bauerle, Retired Professor with artist of "Lucille"Bauerle said CMU has been good to him — from the day he began teaching in 1972, when CMU was still a junior college. Teaching at CMU gave him the opportunity to live the way he wanted. 

One thing he wanted was to travel. He’s been a guest lecturer on scores of cruises around the world, in addition to other destinations on his own. 

When he retired last year he felt indebted to CMU. “I wanted to leave a gift to the school,” he said. “Teaching here has been such a good job for me. They’ve given me a lot of freedom to teach the way I want and grade the way I want.” 

“This was the only college job in Colorado when I graduated,” he said. “I was lucky to get it.” 

Bauerle knew he wanted to be in the West after he earned his doctorate. Most of his graduate studies concentrated on plants and animals of the western United States. 

He was only 26 when he began teaching, “not much older than my students.” He likes to say he had an “ornery streak,” but the culture of the school then, and still today, was a match for the Bauerle teaching method. 

Bauerle’s expertise was in the biological sciences. But he had a passion for the outdoors and survival and saw a connection between the two. 

“It’s just always been kind of a hobby of mine.” He’s anything but a doomsday prophet, but he does have a half a year’s worth of supplies in his house and is keenly aware of the troubled world we live in. 

Bruce celebrating installation of "Lucille"There’s nothing he relishes more than a demanding, solo trip into the wilderness. He watched the recent solar eclipse in Yellowstone National Park. But instead of checking into one of the park’s many lodging facilities, he loaded his gear into his sea kayak. He paddled it four miles through one lake, a couple miles up a river, drug it another couple miles up some rapids and then paddled another four or five miles through a second lake. By himself. 
It seemed only natural to turn his outdoor skills into a class. His survival course at CMU was not easy. Students who took it often found themselves in uncomfortable situations. 

It required rock-climbing in Unaweep Canyon. There was an overnight camping trip with tents and an overnight camping trip with no tents. Students had to create their own shelter from whatever they could find. They had to start a fire with one match. They had to bake bread over a campfire. 
Then there was the snow-camping trip on Grand Mesa. Students had to make snow caves and spend a night in them. It was difficult for Bauerle, too. He recalled nights with hardly any sleep because he checked on his students in their snow caves throughout the night. “That took some time, when there are 80 students,” he said. 

None of those ordeals deterred students. The wait list was always long. Now, he said, it’s time to help students in other ways. Creating the endowment is his way of giving back to the institution that he was proud to be a part of for more than four decades. His endowment is one way to help. But he also has advice for new students. 

“I almost let my mental block about chemistry stop me from becoming a biologist,” he said. “I have seen many students who run into problems with college algebra. Some nursing students run into a wall with anatomy and physiology, and some students are terrified of standing up and giving a speech. Others run into the problem of having too little money or too many demands at home. I think I would tell a starting student to understand that there are going to be some tough problems and moments coming up in the next few years, but don’t let them sway you from your dreams. Speed bumps in life are there for everyone, and they can anticipate encountering some. They shouldn't let adversity alter their long-term plans. Be tough. Be strong. Get through it. Get the degree you want, no matter how long it takes. In the long run, it will be worth it.”