UW Today

October 7, 2010

Illustrious career brings singular honors for Mike Wallace

News and Information

For more than 40 years, John “Mike” Wallace has been a fixture at the UW. He joined the atmospheric sciences faculty in 1966 fresh from his doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he hasn’t looked back.

To say that he has had a major impact in the study of climate would be an understatement. He is regarded as a careful scientist who does not quickly reach conclusions about the data he sees. So in the late 1990s, when he became convinced that the evidence showed that earth’s climate is warming, and largely because of human influence, other scientists made note of it.

His impact on climate science, at the UW and globally, led to two recent noteworthy events on campus. In September, friends and colleagues from around the world gathered for a two-day Wallace Symposium that was billed as a celebration of his 70th birthday and his many contributions to science, students and the community. This summer, the former Academic Computing Center, which now houses the new College of the Environment, the Program on the Environment and a UW-based institute he headed for many years, was renamed John M. Wallace Hall.

“My initial reaction was one of disbelief: I wasn’t aware of any buildings named after living faculty members who had not donated large sums of money to the University,” Wallace said. “UW has been extremely supportive of me right from the beginning of my professional career, but I never expected to be honored in this way.”

Wallace became a full professor in 1975, chaired atmospheric sciences (now part of the College of the Environment) from 1983-88 and twice headed the renowned Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, from 1982-97 and from 2003-06. He also was co-director of the Program on the Environment from 1997-2000.

Besides his research and teaching, Wallace has worn many other hats on campus. They include his service on search committees for business dean and statistics chairperson, a committee to chart the direction of the then-College of Forest Resources and the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee. The most memorable, he said, was chairing the Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Responsibilities and Rewards. All of that work led in 2006 to his receiving the first David B. Thorud Leadership Award for faculty.

“I am not one to seek out committee assignments, but I tend to become deeply involved in the work of the committees that I’m assigned to,” he said. “For me the greatest reward of committee service is feeling a part of the broader University community. But I’m glad I didn’t give up my ‘day job.'”

The symposium that marked Wallace’s 70th birthday was a mixture of science, good-natured satire and opportunities to acquaint his family and neighbors with his students and science colleagues.

“This event summed up so many of the highlights of my career: the friendships with students and colleagues, the joy of discovery, the satisfaction that comes from being able to pass on knowledge to the next generation and from seeing former students move on to successful careers,” he said.