Popular professor to retire
Local hero and luminary George Montopoli will be retiring at the end of the 2017 spring semester after an illustrious run as professor of mathematics and science at Arizona Western College. While continuing to work as an independent investigator on several grants he helped to obtain for AWC, this experienced explorer will hand in his instructor gadgets, continuing with expeditions he sought outside the classroom and advancing to new accomplishments.
Dr. Montopoli has taught at the AWC/NAU campus for 19 years. Mostly focusing on math and science, Montopoli led lectures in courses such as applied statistics, advanced mathematics, ecology of organisms in the modern world and environmental science.
He also directed the Honors Program at AWC, from 1999 to 2002, and he has participated many in professional presentations, often centering on environmental issues. For example, he presented “Rehabilitation of Wildlife at AWC” at the faculty in-service in 2011.
In honor of his great dedication put into his work, Montopoli received AWC’s Teacher of the Year award in 2000 and again in 2013.
The starting map
Growing up in Corning, N.Y., Montopoli spent most of his time playing outside in the woods. Thus began his love for the outdoors, which he would carry on into his adult life.
After graduating from high school, he decided he would attend the Air Force Academy to become an astronaut, but he only stayed for one semester.
“I had issues with my vision, so I wouldn’t have been able to become an astronaut,” he said. “And I didn’t like the academy, so I left there and went to the University of Colorado.”
After completing one semester at the UC, Montopoli decided to put his schooling on hold.
“I was working for the government as a work-study student and attending the university at an advanced pace, and I was looking outside one day and it snowed a lot and I saw this guy go skiing by on two to three feet of snow,” he said. “I thought, ‘I want to do that,’ so I dropped out of everything.”
Because of his excellent skill with data and numbers, Montopoli decided it would be easy for him to return later and continue his degree in mathematics when he was ready. With nothing to deter him, he travelled all around the U.S. and South America, taking on jobs as a migrant worker, picking fruit and doing construction to finance his mountaineering aspirations.
Montopoli never wavered in his adventures, not even when a climb resulted in a broken leg. Only slowing down a bit, Montopoli went forward in joining the Peace Corps as a health volunteer, serving two tours of duty (four years) in Chile and Ecuador.
After returning from South America, Montopoli returned to college in 1985, eventually earning his Master’s in mathematics in 1988 and his Doctorate in statistics in 1992, both at the University of Wyoming.
Paging the ranger
Montopoli continues to work at Grand Teton National Park as a ranger specializing in backcountry, climbing and rescue – which he had started doing when he took a break from college in 1977.
“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “It’s seasonal work, and I’ve done it for 37 years.”
Combining his roles as a lead climbing ranger/rescue coordinator and Emergency Medical Technician, Montopoli is involved with about 40 rescues every summer. In fact, in 2005 Montopoli received the Department of Interior’s Valor Award for his role in saving 13 climbers who were hit by lightning.
Working as a park ranger gives Montopoli many opportunities to explore the outdoors and conduct research on wildlife and the environment. His findings have resulted in more than 18 published works.
“Your office is the outdoors,” said of his job as a ranger. “You’re doing hikes and climbs and research on animals, or you’re running rescues to save people. I would never turn that down.”
Looking back at his time at AWC, Montopoli will never forget the times when he and his colleagues took some of his students on hikes or camping trips.
“It has been a fun ride,” he said. “We made a lot of great memories.”
Photo courtesy of AWC Photo Services