Cedar City native and SUU alumnus Bill Heyborne has completed the academic circle of life and now shares his passion of animals and wildlife with SUU students.
Before returning to SUU as a professor in 2011, Heyborne received a master’s degree at Oregon State University in entomology, as well as a PhD in biology from the University of Northern Colorado. After finishing his education, Heyborne worked at Morningside College in Iowa as the Department Chair and Assistant Professor of Biology.
When a job became available at SUU, Heyborne was hesitant.
“It was a tough decision to leave my position in Iowa, but clearly I did, and it was the right decision,” Heyborne said. “The job was a good fit for me and, well, I already had family here… My 87-year-old grandma lives just a few blocks from here. We love SUU, so it’s been fun to be back.”
Heyborne is one of the best-rated professors on Ratemyprofessors.com, so it comes as a surprise that being an educator wasn’t originally in his plans.
At different times during his undergrad at SUU, Heyborne thought about becoming a veterinarian or possibly attending medical school. It wasn’t until Dean Winward, a professor of agriculture who still teaches on campus today, sat Heyborne down and talked to him about his future.
“He asked me what my future plans were and if I wanted to go to grad school,” Heyborne said. “I didn’t even know what that was, so I just lied through my teeth and told him I was thinking about it. But when I discovered that I could keep going to school and have someone else pay for it, I was pretty excited that I could keep learning all this cool stuff.”
While working on his masters degree in Oregon, Heyborne became a teaching assistant. After graduating, he taught in the community college system full-time.
“I was driving all over the western part of the state, it was crazy. And it reaffirmed that I love being in the classroom and I loved teaching. And it was then that I was like ‘oh yeah this is what I want to do’.”
When it came to finding a PhD program, Heyborne found a program that would not only allow him to work on what he says was “really cool research” but also receive training as a college faculty member to help him pursue becoming a college professor.
Now, Heyborne gets to wake up everyday and educate students on his favorite subjects.
“I just love sharing what I am passionate about with students. Whether that is out in the field, lecture hall or lab, we have all these different venues that we can use to spend time with students. Sharing my passion with others, that is what it is all about.”
One of Heyborne’s favorite things to do is help people learn about the living things around them.
During his time as an undergrad at SUU, one of Heyborne’s professors would receive requests from the community to bring different types of animals to events. Once the faculty member realized that Heyborne had a knack for it, they stepped back and let him be in charge of the animals and putting on the events.
While earning both his master’s and PhD degrees, Heyborne started programs similar to the Animal Ambassadors found here on campus. During his time at Morningside College, he founded Creature Outreach. When it came time for Heyborne to begin his job at SUU, it was only fitting he would start a similar organization once more.
“When I came [to SUU], the program had been so successful I thought we needed to do something here. I started Animal Ambassadors the second semester I was here and it has gotten bigger every year. It originally began with eight students my first semester, but last year we had 90 students in our club and we talked to over 8,000 people in the community. It is big and really fun.”
With all he has done for SUU, it is no wonder he won Professor of the Year at the 2014 Thunderbird Awards and is one of the most sought-out professors on campus.
Abby Cannon, a member of Animal Ambassadors from South Jordan, said, “I love Dr. Heyborne because he is the definition of SUU to me. He cares a lot about his students and he is willing to do anything he can for them. He has helped me out with many questions I have had about careers, classes and, of course, animals.”
Even though Heyborne is appreciative of all the kind words his students say about him, he just hopes that every student can find a professor that they can connect with.
“I hope that all of our students find somebody at SUU that they feel that way about. If it’s not me that’s totally fine. I can’t connect with everyone, there are just too many students and not everybody is passionate about biology. But I hope that everyone that comes to SUU finds somebody they can look to as a mentor and as a guide through their education,” said Heyborne.
When Heyborne isn’t in the classroom, he likes to spend his time outdoors, cycling or hiking.
In Fall of 2018, Heyborne, alongside SUU administrators Johnny Oh and President Scott Wyatt, ran the Grand to Grand Ultra Marathon. The race required Heyborne, Oh and President Wyatt to run 273 km, or 169 miles, over the course of seven days.
Heyborne always wanted to run the race, but since it is at the end of September, he figured he would have to take a sabbatical to participate in it. But after seeing a Facebook post by President Wyatt trying to get a team to run the Grand to Grand Ultra Race, Heyborne captured his chance.
After completing the ultra marathon, Heyborne described his experience as, “Incredibly hard physically, mentally and emotionally, but it was so rewarding.”
He now uses his experience to teach his students a lesson about perseverance.
“[The race] provides an opportunity for us to talk to our students about the value of doing hard things. Life is full of hard things and we have to do them, we can’t just give up if you are going to be successful in life. To get up everyday and run a marathon or more is a hard thing. But if we had given up, we wouldn’t have finished.”
Heyborne is thankful for SUU, not only because he received an education here, but also that he gets to be a part of such a close knit community.
“You can get a really great education at SUU and build some lifelong relationships. I know you don’t get that everywhere because I have been other places. And for undergrads especially, it is really hard for them to create these tight bonds. That’s why I loved SUU as an undergrad and why I love being back here as a faculty member.”
Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtest of Bill Heyborne