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In memoriam: Richard Ponzio

Richard Ponzio
Richard Carl Ponzio, UC Cooperative Extension youth development specialist emeritus at UC Davis, died after a long illness peacefully at home in Mill Valley on Jan. 5, 2021, with his partner Carol and son Frank by his side. He was 80.

He was born in San Francisco to Frank and Maria Peri Ponzio and raised in Hopland.  

“Growing up on a farm and ranch gave him a knowledge of and appreciation for hard work, and the importance that farming plays in supporting our society,” said Carol Ponzio. “Education was also important to the Ponzio family and Richard spent the rest of his life in pursuit of education for himself and contributing to the education of others.”

Ponzio earned a BA and MA from San Francisco State University. He started his career teaching elementary school in Ukiah and later Mill Valley. After receiving his Ph.D. in education from UC Berkeley, he worked at UC Berkeley and Mills College training teachers.

As a UCCE specialist in the Department of Human and Community Development at UC Davis, Ponzio's research focused on collaboration and advancing student learning in science education and teaching.

Ponzio approached teacher education as a fellow inquirer, always finding ways to ignite interest in his students, freeing them to be innovative and encouraging them to be observant and to listen to their students.

“Richard Ponzio was a good friend and colleague,” said Michael Marzolla, emeritus UCCE 4-H youth development advisor for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “His contribution of developing a science-based approach to the 4-H program that engaged 4-H youth as hands-on, minds-on citizen scientists continues to this day. It spread from California throughout the nation. He did this with good humor with a twinkle in his eye.”

In 1997, Charles Fisher of the University of Michigan and Ponzio co-authored the book “The Joy of Sciencing,” focused on cross-age teaching and community action. Fisher and his wife and research partner Freddy Hiebert collaborated with Ponzio on several projects over the years.

“The title of the book, The Joy of Sciencing, fully describes Richard C. Ponzio's long-standing professional commitment,” wrote Fisher and Hiebert. “Richard believed in the power that engagement in hands-on science experiences could have in the learning and the agency of individuals, especially children and adolescents. For almost half a century, Richard Ponzio created learning contexts that make engagement in science a reality for thousands of students and teachers. By the time Richard joined Cooperative Extension at UC Davis in 1987, he had created numerous opportunities for students as a classroom teacher (Ukiah, Mill Valley) and for pre-service and in-service teachers at UC Berkeley and Mills College.”

At UC Davis, Ponzio designed and developed 4-H youth programs including Science Experiences and Resources for Informal Education Settings (4-H SERIES); Science and Youth (4-H SAY), Youth Experiences in Science (4-H YES) and others.

“These programs, and their implementation in many states across America, express Richard's vision of collaboration (including cross-age tutoring) and learner empowerment as key ingredients in learning,” Fisher and Hiebert said.

Ponzio's curriculum “Earthquakes: Beyond duck, cover, and hold,” published in 2001, is still used by teachers.

“The development and implementation of these projects required collaboration among numerous agencies and individuals at several levels,” wrote Fisher and Hiebert. “Richard was highly successful in creating teams of colleagues and in securing funding to create innovative programs for young participants and their teachers.”

Ponzio retired from UC in 2008.

“Richard's numerous collaborators will remember him as a very warm, generous and humorous promoter of learning and joy,” Fisher and Hiebert said. “For many of his friends and colleagues, there will be memories of sailing on San Francisco Bay on his beloved sailboat Ragnarök or stomping grapes to make his home-made (and prize-winning) wines. Richard's legacy will continue through those who share his vision of joyful learning.”

Marzolla also remembers Ponzio as a skilled fly fisherman, gardener and beekeeper.

Ponzios is survived by his life partner Carol, son Frank, and brother Jim and his wife Ann. A celebration of his life will be held in 2022. Donations can be given to Alzheimer's Disease Research.

Posted on Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6:28 PM

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