For Laura Guertin, soil is more than just dirt, the Earth is not just for walking and teaching is a passion, not a paycheck. Her students, colleagues and friends have known that for years, so it's only fitting that the world now knows it, too. A Penn State Brandywine associate professor of Earth science, Guertin was honored for her outstanding teaching, service and community leadership as the recipient of the 2009 Donald and Carolyn Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Education from the Geological Society of America.
The Biggs Award was created to recognize and reward innovative and effective teaching of earth science among early career faculty.
A mover and a shaker on campus, Guertin, of Media, is always on the lookout for fresh and interesting methods for teaching her students about the Earth and all aspects of science. She is known for her innovative teaching style, as she encourages and assigns her students projects integrating technological tools such as blogging, Google Earth, GPS, electronic picture sharing with Flickr and has sent countless students to the campus' Digital Commons, where they have access to state-of-the-art video equipment. She even shares her thoughts and science news from around the world in her "Tweets."
"I am deeply humbled to be selected as this year's Biggs Earth Science Teaching Award recipient," Guertin said as she took the stage to accept the award in Portland, Ore. at the Society's annual meeting at the end of October. "It is overwhelming when I think about the significance of this honor. I feel as if the seal has just been broken on an envelope at the Academy Awards and my name has been announced as the winner."
If there were an Oscar for dedication and Guertin's students sat on the Academy of ? Sciences, she'd be a shoe-in. Though this award automatically inducts her into the Geology Hall of Fame.
As a mentor, her support knows no boundaries. One student wanted to interview the dinosaur specialist at the Smithsonian Museum for a project. No sweat. Guertin went along for the ride. Another needed help sewing heart-shaped "Huggy Pillows" for cardiac patients at a local hospital. Guertin brought her sewing machine.
As the coordinator of the campus' honors programs and co-chair of an intercollegiate minor on civic and community engagement for the entire University, Guertin's influence is as far-reaching as her desire to teach and learn. She has mentored 28 undergraduate students at the campus on research and honors projects.
"I have a passion for mentoring undergraduate students in their first two years on inquiry-based projects and independent research," she said on her Web site.
During the meeting in Portland, Guertin led two seminars for participants: "Broadening the Definition of Geoscience Research to the Introductory Level" and "Adapting Google Lit Trips for the Geosciences."
Earth science instructors and faculty from all academic institutions engaged in undergraduate education who have been teaching full-time for 10 years or less are eligible for the Biggs Award. An award of $750 is made possible as a result of support from the Donald and Carolyn Biggs Fund, the GSA Geoscience Education Division, and GSA's Education and Outreach Programs.
Guertin is the chair of the Geosciences Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research and co-leads workshops on various aspects of undergraduate research. In April 2008, she was awarded a Congressional Citation by Delaware County U.S. Representative Joe Sestak for her civic and community engagement efforts. Guertin is currently working on an NSF-funded project, "Developing Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges: Tapping the Potential of All Students," and she is the recipient of several campus awards, including the Student Government Association Outstanding Service Award, the Student Government Association Most Involved on Campus Award, the college-wide Award for Teaching Excellence and George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.