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Retiring and remembered: John Harris

Prepare yourself, Mills: one of your favorite members of the community is about to leave the building. Beloved Professor John Harris is wrapping up the final weeks of his 27-year-long career in the biology department.

(Courtesy of John Harris)
(Courtesy of John Harris)

Since coming to Mills in 1986, Harris has advised hundreds of students, has taught a variety of biology courses, and is currently both the co-department head and program head of environmental science.

In his time here, Harris has become most known for his love of birds. Though he will be gone, his legacy will live on through the Birds and Birding class, a class he began in 2002 and is one of the campus’ most popular courses.

Harris joined the Mills biology department a few years after receiving his PhD from the University of California, Davis, where he studied ecology with a focus on small mammals. Before that, he received his Bachelor of Science from Stanford, where he began as a history major.

A summer job at a zoo that brought him around to biology and a later bird-enthusiast roommate that led him back to the world of birding.

But Harris is so much more than just Mills’ token bird guy. He also leads wilderness exhibitions in his free time and plays the renaissance trombone in local band, Alta Sonora, but even these hobbies have been somewhat Mills-influenced: in the early ‘90’s, Harris took recorder lessons though Mills and audited a music theory class, eventually playing in Mills’ Early Music Ensemble with close friend and music professor David Bernstein.

Harris has regarded his friendships developed within the Mills community as an important part of his experience here. Bernstein and Harris, along with Mills philosophy professor Jerry Clegg, even guided a trip together through the High Sierra ten years ago with Harris serving as the trip’s naturalist.

So what will a professor so immersed in the Mills community do with all his free time? Don’t worry  — he’s got plans. With a yard perfect for birding, Harris plans to spend time bird watching from home. Harris also hopes to take bird trips out of the area, visit family, write, play music, and dive into research projects including one about the little-known distribution of his favorite bird, the phainopepla.

Harris himself admitted he won’t be able to stay away from Mills for too long, so keep a keen eye next semester for a visit from your favorite rare breed: the commendable Mr. John Harris.

For a full profile on professor Harris, check out the article online: