Through my teaching experience I have seen the importance of actively involving students in their own learning, respecting their background and the skills they bring to the table, and empowering students to problem-solve. I would bring subject matter expertise in volcanology, active tectonics, and geophysics in my course content, and teaching methods that are rigorous without costing students their humanity. My goal will be to teach in a way that encourages and invites members of groups traditionally underrepresented in the geosciences while raising the quality of education for all in my classes.
My students will be able to connect the Earth science concepts they learn to the challenges facing human society. I can teach both major and non-major courses in volcanology, natural hazards, and active tectonics, as well as an introductory geology class. I can also teach methods based courses such as quantitative data analysis, inverse methods, and geophysical exploration methods. I will prepare my students to navigate messy, incomplete data sets, and discern the best methods to gain useful information from these data sets to address a range of real-world problems. For example, in a volcanology course I would have students participate in a simulation of a volcanic disaster, in which they must apply what they have learned about volcanic behavior and hazards to mitigate the danger to a fictitious public.
My students will be an active partner in their learning rather than passive recipients of knowledge. My first experience as an instructor was an opportunity during my undergrad years to take over a middle school science class for a day, creating a lesson plan from scratch. I witnessed several “aha” moments as students used Google Earth to find subduction zones by searching for the tell-tale lines of volcanoes and earthquake activity. I now volunteer as a co-host of stargazes through “Ithaca Astronomy for All” that are open to anyone in the community. I make sure that within minutes new amateur astronomers have their own hands on a telescope, exploring the night sky for themselves. When mentoring two female undergraduate students through the graduate school application process, we worked together to develop a mentoring plan. In our regular conversations I allowed my mentees to guide the conversation, allowing them to choose the topics for which they most needed guidance.
I believe that great learning happens when students know they are respected, and when they know they can respect themselves. As I prepared to complete my work at Micro-G LaCoste and begin my doctoral studies, I trained my successor, an electronics technician with no formal training in science, in data analysis techniques to evaluate newly manufactured and repaired gravity meters. I made clear that I respected his expertise in circuitry and assembly techniques, and welcomed his insight and feedback on anything I had been doing in the lab. I worked with him to develop software, analysis tools, and testing procedures that made sense to him. I have since heard that he has successfully caught and helped to diagnose multiple issues before products landed in the hands of customers. Students also need to be able to respect themselves, particularly if they come from underrepresented backgrounds. To combat stereotype threat for a female undergraduate student working in my PhD research lab, I emphasized my own struggles and growth throughout my research experience, driving home the point that I wasn’t born knowing how to code in Matlab or process interferograms. Fostering a “growth mindset”, in which the teacher emphasizes effort and progress over innate ability, is crucial to promoting learning.
A key goal of my teaching is to empower students to teach themselves and answer their own questions. In Ithaca Astronomy for All, I teach people how to use star charts, so they can explore the night sky without an expert guide. I’ve witnessed people, who an hour before had never touched a telescope, use their new star chart abilities to find classic amateur astronomy targets on their first night. When I mentor undergraduates in my PhD lab, I encourage them to write down useful Linux commands to build their knowledge base. I also point them to resources where they can learn more and look up information on their own. My goal for my mentees is for them to be as independent as they can be, so they won’t feel dependent on me as the expert to advance – they will become their own expert.
I will encourage my students to personally engage in the material, affirm that students are human beings worthy of respect, and empower my students to become their own teachers. Through my teaching and mentoring experiences both in and outside of academia, I have found that the best reward is when a student is involved in their own learning, confident, and self-sufficient. My goal in teaching is to make students eager to participate and learn in my classes, and then carry what they have learned to success in their chosen fields.