Alycia Stigall

Associate professor of geological sciences Alycia Stigall has seen students transformed by field work.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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‘Why field work rocks’ and other memorable classroom stories

Geological Sciences prof sees students connect in field school

When she teaches, Associate Professor of Geological Sciences Alycia Stigall waits for that “aha!” moment when her students begin to connect the lectures with their work in the field. “In geology, there is no substitute for field experience,” Stigall said. “Concepts that seem esoteric to students in the classroom often become crystal clear the instant they are presented with real-world rocks.” This experience is best exemplified in the carbonate geology course she teaches on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. “It is not a simple course, and it is definitely not the vacation that our friends at home joke about!” The group studies how limestone rocks formed during the Pleistocene and visit environments in which these sediments accumulate today. Because these sediments comprise the skeletal remains of organisms, students learn to identify both living creatures and rock fragments as they work. Her first group of students astounded her: They were not only up to the task, but they were always the first to leave and last to return to the field station each day. “One night in the social area, I found some of my students engaged in a heated discussion with members of a biology class from another university. When I walked over, my students explained that these biologists simply were refusing to accept that they had been misidentifying Halimeda, a type of green algae,” she said. “My students were correct, of course.” So dedicated were her students, they were more successful at biological identification than students whose sole purpose it was to study biology that week: “I was completely blown away by the knowledge they accumulated and the burning desire to learn more.”


Will the real Colleen O’Brien please stand up?

Retired Associate Professor of Economics Jan Palmer — who still teaches microeconomics and macroeconomics — is popular for his clarity, humor and his willingness to mix it up: Some students may recall Bring Your Dog to Class Day or a live performance from members of the Marching 110. Around 1998, Palmer had another idea: “I just on a lark told people, I make up these (homework problem) stories every night, and if you want your name to be one of the characters in there, you can.” Friends of Colleen O’Brien asked Palmer to include her in the word problems and he did. “So every day there was a Colleen O’Brien story,” Palmer recounted. “These are economics problems but I set the context. So Colleen was traveling the world, doing all kinds of stuff. She could speak all of these languages, and she was an Olympic athlete.” Palmer’s fictional O’Brien went on to other multilingual adventures, like being serenaded by a matador at a bullfight in South America. An unintended result is that the real Colleen O’Brien became something of a campus celebrity. If a student knew Colleen O’Brien, “that was something to be proud of.”


Mom for the weekend

One day after class, Associate Professor of English Linda Rice asked a student, “You look so familiar, how do I know you?” Embarrassed, the young woman told Rice they had met when the student was in trouble with judiciaries. Rice assured her they would start the course with a blank slate. The student proved to be a hard worker and did well in the course. After the term ended, the two met for lunch. Moms Weekend was approaching, so Rice asked the student if her mom was coming to campus to visit. “She was like, ‘I wouldn’t know my mom if she walked in here,’” Rice said. After learning of the student’s unstable childhood, Rice offered, “How would you like to be my daughter for Moms Weekend?” The two spent that Moms Weekend — and the next a year later — having lunch, hiking at Radar Hill, going to shows and wearing Moms Weekend T-shirts. The two remain in touch, and Rice helped her mentee secure her first job with Teach for America. 


To read the rest of the article, which includes the stories of Assistant Professor of Anthropology Hogan Sherrow, who lectured on the aquatic ape during a dean’s visit, and Associate Professor of Costume Design Holly Cole, who can build a 12-foot whale puppet in one night, turn to your copy of the Spring 2013 issue of Ohio Today magazine. You can access the article “The Dean Came to Visit and I Lectured about Aquatic Apes” online as well.