On the farm where I grew up there was a tall andrickety cupboard,covered in peeling white paint, and propped against a wooden granary. That cupboard contained my most prized possessions: a collection of rocks and dry old cow bones. The cupboard disappeared long ago, and my collection with it, but I have since done my best to accumulate enough rocks to make up for the loss. (Not so much the cow bones.)In 1994 my rocks and I went to the University of Saskatchewan where we earned a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in geology. Some of my rocks came with me to the Pennsylvania State University where I completed my doctorate in 2007. I now keep my rocks, my husband, and two dogs on an acreage near Dundurn SK.
I am interested in Earth-system science. This is a way of understanding events in Earth’s history by looking at the interactions amongst a wide range of components that work on Earth’s surface and within it. All of the components affect the system and are affected by it, so when something happens (climate change, for example) there is no such thing as an isolated cause. A single event might be the trigger, but many components, such as ocean circulation, weathering of rocks, glaciation, and so on, all contribute to the final outcome that is recorded in the rock record. The consequencescan be much greater than we would expect from the initial trigger itself, and sometimes the results are wildly counter-intuitive.I use computer models to study the chemical “fingerprints” that Earth-system change leaves behind in rocks.
My teaching philosophy is deeply influenced by my time as a student, and by working with students with learning disabilities. I have come to appreciate that different peoplelearn in different ways, and one of the things I enjoy most about teaching is the creative challenge of figuring out what those ways are for each student. This doesn’t work well as a one-sided process. It works best when there is teamwork between me and the student. The biggest difficulty is convincing students that it is safe to be frank about their perceived learning limitations.
As an instructor, I place an emphasis on the “why” of things, because it is much easier to remember facts when you understand how they fit into the big picture. Once the facts have context and meaning, then you can use them to solve problems, and to create new ideas. Building that initial understanding requires that you know what you don’t know—in other words, it requires that you identify the source of any confusion to the best of your ability. In my experience, terrible frustration with course material can sometimes boil down to a small misunderstanding that is easy to fix, if you know where to look. In my view, a key objective of teaching is giving students the skills to articulate what they don’t know.