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Archive for April, 2012

Simon at Metageologist is hosting AW #44 this month & the chosen theme is “Most important teacher.”   I have to say, this was an easy choice for me, though as I thought about it a bit more I realized that I really should also give a few “runner-up” acknowledgements.

For me, the title “important teacher” comes into play because that person has influenced not just my knowledge of a particular subject, but has also changed how I address research or teaching or just life in general (or all three).   So, I need to give a few shout-outs per category first:

  • most influential on how I live my life: this one goes to someone who was never actually a “teacher” but was instead my Girl Scout leader in high school.   I’m a nerd.   I’m a nerd who was in Girl Scouting all the way through high school eventually earning my Gold Award (equivalent of the Eagle Scout).   I had a variety of leaders over the years, most of whom were mothers of someone in the troop.   But Barb Burri was a single woman who was crazy enough to be the leader of the high school troop in the town I grew up in.   At the time, Barb worked in computers (she’s changed careers since then…), she liked camping, skiing, hiking, cooking, reading, had a wicked sense of humor, and would voluntarily spend Wednesday nights with a group of high schoolers.   I grew up in a family that spent plenty of time outdoors, but here was a woman that would encourage us to try and cook a 35-lb turkey at a town-wide encampment and who was willing to discuss a wide-range of topics I never really wanted to bring up with my parents.   Because of Barb, I’m now the crazy woman with a troop of middle school girls (none of which is mine…), who volunteers my time freely to a wide-range of organizations, and could make the hard decisions about balancing life vs. work without agonizing about it.
  • most influencial on my teaching style: this has to go to Jim Brophy at Indiana University, who opened my eyes to ways to teach other than just lecturing (sorry to all of my school & undergrad profs, who probably also tried this — I just didn’t get the message); my 1st semester as a grad student, I worked under Jim on an Earth Materials class for envi studies and education undergrads with a few archeology grad students thrown in for fun and sitting in the back of the class was eye-opening.   Jim used reading reflections that were due before class started, he had interactive questions for the students to discuss in small groups during lecture, and the analogies he used (M&M’s in a bucket for xtal fractionation) stick with me even 10+ years later.   I still teach plate tectonics & the model of the atom the way he did in that class, because he started with the evidence & moved to what current paradigms are while demonstrating the scientific process along the way.   I took several grad classes with Jim during my two years at IU, which were all great, but the most memorable was learning MELTS by starting with the original simple mixing model papers and reading the literature that forms the backbone for this powerhouse of ig pet.   Other people have influenced my teaching style, but none as much as Jim.   Oh, and Jim would also want you to know: a basalt is NOT a basalt is NOT a basalt.
  • most influential on my research: Jane Gilotti at UIowa.   (a few people may now start wondering if aliens have taken over my blog, but I’m serious on this one)   Jane has very, very high expectations and pushed me more than anyone else I’ve worked with.   When I took microstructural analysis with Jane my first semester at Iowa, she flat out told me that my work was going to be graded to a higher standard than the masters or undergrads in the class.   My thin section sketches back from that class are covered in red.   But I worked my butt off to get my presentation & paper for that class up to her standards.   I continued to work like crazy to get my talks up to par over the next few years and one of my most treasured compliments was a “well-done” from Jane after I ran the tectonics research group discussion a few years into my PhD.   My writing improved greatly under Jane (though it probably could still be better), which has made writing papers, proposals, and even just short statements for students that much easier.   Its Jane’s high standards that really pushed me and I’m grateful for it.

Ok, so now that I’ve rambled on a bit about the runner’s up, my real choice for “most important teacher” is: Kim Hannula.   (Kim, you could stop reading now…)   I lucked out and was assigned to Kim’s freshman seminar class my first year at Middlebury.   I was the stubborn student who thought she knew exactly what she was going to do & when, but Kim managed to steer me over the next few years, so that somehow I ended up at a metamorphic geologist and not as a planetary scientist (based on jobs available, best decision ever).

Teaching-wise, Kim would always write an outline of the topics that were going to be covered that day on the board, so we had an idea of where we were in the day’s lecture — my outline is a reoccurring slide in powerpoint, but same idea.   Some of my intro labs (and the majority of my structure labs) are either directly taken from Kim or modified to some extent from what I did as an undergrad.

From the research side, I worked with Kim in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont on my undergraduate thesis.   The numbering scheme I use to collect rocks, what my field notebook looks like, how I tend to set up the organization of a paper vs. appendices are all things that I learned during that project from Kim.   And since that project had some pitfalls, it was also from Kim that I learned that what you want to do isn’t always what you’ll end up being able to do, but the alternative might actually be more interesting in the long run.   Good thing I had that knowledge before I tackled my masters rocks or I might still be trying to figure out what was going on in those darn amphibolites.   Once I started advising senior theses, I also tried to bring back into mind Kim’s interaction with me so that I could be that “good” advisor who actually was a help to my advisee.

On the personal side, I learned from Kim not to give up.   (I’ll let Kim explain in her own words.)

In addition to being a great teacher, Kim has also been a wonderful mentor, someone who kicks my butt about not getting things done in a timely fashion, and a person who I rely on for good advice about both teaching and research.   If I can be that kind of teacher for my students, I’ll be happy.

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