University of South Carolina

RISE award winner is living his dream

By Mario Cuadros,

Eric Montie was well on his way to attending medical school before he decided to travel to the backcountry of the West Coast and visit over 20 national parks, ranging from Oregon to Southern California. During this trip he realized the environment needed a lot of help and decided medical school wasn’t for him.

Joined by two of his friends, they traveled everywhere from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons. After weeks of walking among the trees and sleeping under the stars, nature came calling and Montie answered. He realized that a career spent preserving and understanding nature was more valuable than any other profession. 

Having earned his doctorate in biological oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Montie is used to seeing research at the forefront of academics. With his experience, he feels that the University of South Carolina is accommodating to the necessities of researchers. That’s what he saw when he came to USC's Beaufort campus as a professor in the Department of Science and Mathematics in 2011.

His latest research deals with the necessity of thyroid hormones for the development of hearing and hair cell regeneration in fish. He is looking at it as both through an environmental health perspective and a human health perspective, which likely increases costs. His research is an expensive venture, but a recent award through the RISE program has been a big help.

The RISE program, an intitiative of the Office of the Vice President for Research, provides financial support to faculty members at senior and regional campuses for summer salary, research supplies, travel related to research and undergraduate student support.

“This RISE grant has been great,” he says. “The funding with regards to in-house work has been excellent overall. I think this RISE program is a great thing and hopefully they continue to offer grants like this, which are very, very helpful.” 

Montie has been heavily involved in research throughout his professional career. He has gone from studying how thyroid disruptors affect the brain in marine mammals to studying the development of hearing among the same subjects. But even though research is his primary focus, being around his students is what he enjoys the most.

“The most fun that I have is really working with undergraduate students doing research and seeing them get excited about it,” he says. “They’re learning how to perform experiments so they’re putting in practice everything they’ve learned. Definitely one of my favorite things is relating the undergraduate research perspective and working with students on an individual level.”

Aside from the RISE award, Montie has distinguished himself at USC by being named a Breakthrough Star, which honors faculty who have shown commitment to research, scholarly activity and teaching.

Having experience as a professor and a researcher, Montie has seen both aspects that are crucial to anyone involved in a scientific field. He believes that even though teaching is important, it should be complemented with research. 

“I think there’s only so much student’s learn in the classroom,” he says. “I guarantee the students that go outside the classroom and get involved with research are the ones that end up excelling. They’re the one’s going to grad school or getting a good job somewhere. They’re the ones that you know are learning more because they put everything that they’ve learned into use.”

During all his years as a researcher and teaching, one thing has remained constant – he doesn’t regret his trip to the backcountry of western United States. That was the moment when he truly realized what he wanted to do.

“I wanted to study and preserve the natural beauty of this planet,” he says. “Traveling is a great way to change your perspective.”

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Posted: 08/05/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/01/13 @ 9:09 AM | Permalink