At a recent national workshop, Thomas Nelson Geology Department Head Peter Berquist and Geology Instructor Lynsey LeMay were recognized for a program they had been working on for four years. While the grant period is up, Berquist doesn’t see it as an ending.
“It’s truly a springboard,” he said. “This project was absolutely the start of learning best practices and learning how to implement them. And also learning how to share them with faculty.”
Berquist, LeMay, and other educators from across the nation met June 18-21 in Madison, Wis. for the SAGE 2YC Culminating Workshop. SAGE 2YC stands for Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education at Two-Year Colleges. The group’s website states the “project and website helps two-year college geoscience faculty implement high-impact, evidence-based instructional and co-curricular practices at their own institutions that will lead to improved STEM learning, broadened participation, and a more robust STEM workforce.”
The two Thomas Nelson educators, along with Reynolds Community College's Karen Layou, were assigned to the Virginia Change Agent team, in charge of researching and discovering ways to implement change in their classrooms, at their institutions and also regionally. They were identified as a core group of faculty making meaningful strides in education.
“In part, this grant was really pivotal in launching lasting change at different levels,” said LeMay, who has been at Thomas Nelson since 2013. “We focused ours on better connecting with community college faculty from around the state since we’re all within the VCCS.”
LeMay said the team’s biggest success was participating in the annual Virginia Geological Field Conference, which takes place in the fall. It’s a one-day field trip that takes place in different part of the state each year with a meet-and-greet the evening before the trip. LeMay, Berquist and Layou added career mentoring workshops to the program, where two-year and four-year college students network.
“Our two-year college students feel better connected with four-year college students,” said LeMay, who added it then makes the transfer process easier.
But it’s not just for students. Professors and professionals also attend.
“The professionals are sharing with the students what their pathway was in the sciences, what their job is, kind of a day-in-the-life-of,” LeMay said. “That’s really forged some great relationships between our students and these employers.”
She also noted those sessions, which have been held the past three years, have led to job offers. Many of the students have said they feel like part of the science community because of the program.
“That is exactly what we want to build. That’s been really successful in broadening participation,” LeMay said. “It also helps facilitate these pathways into different career options, and things that students never thought of.”
LeMay and Berquist have also made changes in their classes as part of the project. The changes often include more hands-on activities, discovering what the geoscience field includes and learning how to learn, not just dumping information on the students. LeMay related a story of a student who, a few semesters after taking her class, approached her and said how much she appreciated a certain exercise even though she didn’t enjoy it at the time.
Berquist, who joined the College in 2007, also has received similar compliments.
“Some of the feedback that I’ve gotten from students that is most encouraging to me is ‘Wow, I can use this in my other classes.’ Comments like that were very affirming that we were doing something good,” he said.
At the institutional level, LeMay and Berquist have held workshops and talks, including at the Faculty Colloquium. They also have meet with science peer groups.
“We’ve got this knowledge and now we know how to share it,” she said.
But what might be the best part of the entire project is that it’s not tied to the geoscience field.
“We talk a lot about how to use your textbook in a way that’s going to be beneficial as opposed to just reading it through and through and hoping something sticks out at you because that doesn’t work,” LeMay said.
Said Berquist: “We’re not just interested in teaching about rocks. We place a high value on our students getting the most out of their education. Geology just happens to be our avenue to do that.”
The results of the four-year project will live on. LeMay said another career mentoring workshop will be held this year at the November Virginia Geological Field Conference in Nelson County.
“Some of what’s next is we want to continue to make these improvements to our classes, and we want to continue facilitating discussion with other faculty, both at the institution and within the VCCS, sharing what we’ve learned about making education more effective for students,” Berquist said.