Sonoma professor shreds local halfpipes

Can you think of a professor who loves skateboarding? Professors at Sonoma State University have some incredible hobbies. Professor Daniel Soto enjoys spending his free time outdoors, and often times on a skateboard.

Soto has been skateboarding off and on for 30 years, and it’s something he has always loved. He is a member of a private facility in Santa Rosa called Diamond Grind, although many students simply refer to it as ‘the secret skate park.’ 

Aside from skateboarding, Soto’s other hobbies include cycling, rock climbing and playing bass guitar.

With such an active and outdoor lifestyle, it comes as no surprise that Sonoma State is a perfect match for him.

Soto has always loved teaching, even at a young age, although he didn’t seriously consider it as a career until after he had already graduated from college.

“My brother complained to my mom once, when we were very little, that he didn’t like me because I was always trying to teach him something,” said Soto.

Soto teaches in the department of environmental studies and planning. He teaches classes focused on energy and the environment, both of which sparked his interest when he was in graduate school.

“I have a background in physics and engineering so I had the right skills and knowledge to work on those problems and I thought they were really important; problems of energy, climate and national security,” said Soto.

His classes are comprised of hands-on activities and group work, something he finds very important for students.

“Not all students like group work and word problems and I try to tell students as frequently as possible that life is group work and word problems. I want them to have that practice while they’re in college,” Soto said.

Although Soto enjoys all of the classes he has taught over the past three years at Sonoma State, “Energy, Technology, and Society” is his favorite.

“It’s fun because students are really interested in the subject matter. We get to tackle a lot of really big-picture, important questions and I think those two things make it a very lively class,” Soto said.

Soto has found a teaching style that works best for himself, and for his students. 

He gives his students the opportunity to take group quizzes so they can engage and learn from each other. He also takes time to listen to his students and address anything that he thinks may be slowing them down in class.

“I really try to do two things. I focus on allowing students to actively think and struggle as much as possible while we’re all together,” said Soto. “The second thing I really focus on is trying to remove any barriers to students learning. I try to really look and respond and see things that I think are getting in the way.”

Sophomore Kaurie Engle particularly enjoyed the classroom environment Soto created.

“I was in his ENSP 200 class. Professor Soto was easy to listen to and super nice. He made his lectures enjoyable by adding jokes here on there,” Engle said.

Aside from teaching and spending his free time outdoors, this year Soto also took part in the Nature!Tech Conference as a panel moderator.

“It was a good experience. I think I agree that there are a lot of opportunities for technology to help us improve our relationship with the environment,” said Soto. “But one of the things I talked about at the conference is that technology sort of created many of the problems we’re trying to solve, so it’s worth being aware of the power of technology and the limits of technology.”

Next time you have a question about technology or environment for professor Soto, and you miss him on campus, drop by the skate park where you’ll most likely find him.