If the morning’s not rainy or snowy, odds are you can catch Paul Sniegowski riding up to Penn’s Leidy Labs on his white Trek road bicycle.
After the 15-mile journey to work, the biology professor brings the bike into his office. Sniegowski, donning biking clothes and pedal shoes, then takes a quick shower at the Leidy Labs and emerges a few minutes later in his professional attire ready to start his day.
Sneigowski has worn out three bikes since he started riding to work 15 years ago, which was five years after he first arrived at Penn as a faculty member. Over this time, he has worked as a professor, chaired the Biology Graduate Group and last July, began to serve as the new Stephen A. Levin Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Sniewoski enjoys biking to work for very much the same reason he likes biology: he enjoys interacting with nature.
As a professor of evolutionary biology, Sniegowski has had to handle some controversial subject matter in the classroom. Nonetheless, Karen Hogan, Sniegowski’s former teaching assistant and Ph.D. advisee, and now a lab coordinator at Penn, said the professor has always been even-tempered and respectful to the occasional skeptic.
“[Sniegowski] teaches something that outwardly society thinks is controversial but inwardly, as a discipline, is not,” Hogan said. “Striking that balance when you’re doing scientific communication can be very difficult but he’s handled it well.”
Phil Gerrish, a professor at the University of New Mexico and a personal friend of Sniegowski for over 20 years, agreed that Sniegowski strikes that balance well.
“He’s what I would call a ‘real scientist,’” Gerrish said. “By that I mean he’s an exasperatingly careful thinker, and I mean that as a compliment.”
In 2011, Sniegowski’s colleagues recommended him to serve on University’s Office of Student Conduct and Office of the Sexual Violence Investigative Officer. He has been a Disciplinary Hearing Officer since then, working to ensure trials on sexual violence and student conduct proceed according to University rules.
As a professor, Sniegowski has always been welcoming to colleagues seeking advice. Biology Department Chair Brenda Casper said she would periodically stop by his office for input on administrative matters, and 2015 Philosophy Ph.D. graduate Emily Parke said she used to come by to pick his brains on various intellectual topics, often staying for over an hour.
And there’s a reason why Sniegowski’s office is always so busy: the professor is approachable, said the Undergraduate Chair of the Biology Department Mecky Pohlschröder.
His pleasant disposition, she said, makes it difficult for people to have real disagreements with him. In the 20 years she has worked alongside him, she does not recall ever having any significant arguments with him. Seven other individuals close to Sniegowski echoed this sentiment.
“I wish I had a little dirt,” Hogan joked.
Sniegowski’s Ph.D. advisor and later colleague Brian Charlesworth said his former student is easy to get along with because of his strong sense of humor. He even remembers Sniegowski sending him a clipping from a Michigan newspaper of cows’ farts blowing up a nearby barn.
Charlesworth added that Sneigowski was one of the most popular students in his graduate program at the University of Chicago. Charlesworth said this is because he was always friendly and empathetic.
Gerrish agreed and shared a story about a time he spent staying over Sniegowski’s house. While Gerrish watched TV, Sniegowski left to help his elderly, widowed neighbor with her yard work.
“It tells you the kind of person he is,” he said. “Just a good human being.”