Israel Del Toro, wearing a blue shirt, stands in front of a bee-friendly structure.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Israel Del Toro (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Israel Del Toro loves bees.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of biology studies bees, researches bee habitats, teaches about bees, caters to bees on the Lawrence University campus, and advocates for bees across the Fox Valley and beyond.

His efforts earned Lawrence a Bee Campus USA designation two years ago and his advocacy for bees off campus has led to a growing embrace for No Mow May, a movement that calls on homeowners in the community to hold off on mowing their grass in spring to help the pollinators thrive.

Much of Del Toro’s research and data analysis has centered on those pollinators, and a growing number of Lawrence students have joined his research efforts since he arrived on campus in 2016.

We caught up with Del Toro to talk about his interests on and off campus.

In the classroom

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

My classes are all about experimenting, trying different approaches to problem-solving, failing, trying something new, and learning from the previous attempts. I don’t stress too much about grades but rather focus on the experience of trial and error. Having said that, I’m an easy grader; all I expect from my students is that they put their best effort forward. Don’t stress about your grade, rather show me that you learned something new. In my classes, students learn to code, think about biological data analyses, and geek out about exciting new science. 

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Bees! Our lab is all about pollinator research. If you want to learn about protecting the important little things that run the world, then this lab is the place for you. This is the style of teaching that I enjoy the most, working one-on-one with you to ask really nerdy questions. I live for the moment when my students branch out and ask their own interesting questions, develop an elegant and simple study and go get that data. To work with me you have to be self-driven, independent, and curious about the natural world.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

One of the things I love about being an ecologist is that I constantly get to be outside in cool new places. I’ve been privileged enough to see all seven continents and do field work throughout the world. From the Australian Outback to the Savannahs of Africa, to the frozen islands of the Antarctic, and now the adventure-filled forests of North America. It’s simply exciting to be in a new ecosystem and learn about all the critters in it. While at Lawrence, I also learned that you don’t have to go somewhere remote to do cool science and engage with nature. There’s a ton of biodiversity right here in our own back yard that is awaiting exploration.

Out of the classroom 

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

Fishing my way around the world. I love to travel, see the world, and learn all about different cultures and people. I have found that by learning to fish in a new place, you learn a ton about the people in that community. I first realized this when living in Darwin, Australia. I caught my first big fish there and have been hooked ever since. I’ve fished and lived in Denmark, Wales, South Africa, New Mexico, and Massachusetts. At every place, I learned a lot about the community from their fishing practices. Now I’m all about fishing for nearly everything that Wisconsin has to offer.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

If I need a moment to get away, you will find me hiking the wooded trails along the river. I love the sound of the rushing water; it is my moment of Zen. When life gets busy and I find myself overwhelmed, sometimes taking that little 15-minute hike helps me reset. Make time to just be still, quiet, and enjoy the ever-changing sounds of nature right on campus.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

My recommendation for any incoming student is E.O. Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist. Even if you are not planning to be a STEM major, this book is filled with great tips for succeeding as a college student, and developing a curiosity-driven, exploratory mentality. Lately, I’ve found myself jamming out to some funky folk music. Check out the Punch Brothers or GreenSky Bluegrass. But I have to say that sometimes you will find me jamming out to a good corrido or some classic Los Tigres Del Norte—it’s in my DNA. This time of year, you will find me watching all the creepy horror movies and TV shows. American Horror Story and The Exorcist are just perfection in the fall!