Michael J. Renner received his Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1984, his M.S. degree from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and his B.A. degree from Boise State University. After serving as a faculty member, dean, and provost at other universities from 1984-2009, he joined the faculty at Drake in 2009, serving a sentence as Provost before returning to full time faculty responsibilities in 2012.
At Drake, he is a professor of both biology and psychology and routinely teaches courses in both of these departments as well as the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department, which is his primary base of operations. His courses include Animal Behavior, Ethological Methods, Primatology, Endangered Species Conservation, Introduction to Psychology, Nature Photography, international seminars, and Zoo Biology. He has been awarded the Donald O. Hebb Award of the American Psychological Association, elected to membership in the Psychonomic Society and the Sigma Xi scientific honorary society and named an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Rwanda.
His research is organized around the broad theme of the reciprocal influences between organisms and their environments, and has included work in the neuroanatomical and neurochemical influences of environmental enrichment, theoretical models for animal curiosity, and the development of new methods of measuring and quantifying animal behavior. His current projects include optimizing the captive management of endangered species in zoo environments and field studies to model and prevent crop raiding by chimpanzees along the boundaries of the Gishwati-Mukura National Park in the Western Province of Rwanda.