This year’s AAPG Foundation Professor of the Year, AAPG member Joseph Satterfield of Angelo State University, had a unique problem when he first arrived at the school.
There wasn’t a geology department - well, not much of one, anyway.
“First and foremost, Joe should be recognized for his efforts in creating the earth science minor program and the geosciences major program.”
That’s David Bixler, present chair and professor of physics at the school in San Angelo, Texas, and he maintains that without Satterfield, geology at the school is unrecognizable.
Satterfield, Bixler continues, was a guiding force for the school’s overall academic environment, including student organizations, guest speakers, fundraising and, lastly and perhaps most importantly, a liaison with the San Angelo’s community of science teachers.
For Satterfield, who received his doctorate in geology from Rice University, the recognition is almost embarrassing.
“I am lucky to get an award for doing pretty much what I like to do,” he said, maintaining that at the outset the school’s needs and his own desires fit nicely.
“I came to ASU in 2003 with experience and interest in working with undergraduates on research projects. I also had enjoyed being the sole geologist in a department,” said Satterfield, who also saw an opportunity to expand professionally in this very unique town. San Angelo is a place that is very much a reflection of its university - and vice versa.
One of the dynamics for which Satterfield, who’s from Baytown, Texas, is most proud is his ability and willingness to go into the community, talk to high school and junior high school science teachers about the avenues that are available for students willing to apply themselves - avenues that, unfortunately, are often non-existent for poor students in the geosciences at other schools.
Satterfield discovered his love of teaching outdoors while working summers during high school and college at El Rancho Cima Boy Scout Camp in central Texas.
Ask him about influences and he mentions colleagues Andy Wallace, James Ward, Heather Lehto and AAPG member John Oldow, who advised his doctorate research project on Mesozoic structures in the hinterland of the Cordillera.
Oldow, he said, opened his eyes on how to think critically, write well and make a good geologic map.
All skills he brought to Angelo State.
“At ASU,” he said, “we have the opportunity to change lives more than at many schools.”
There’s a good reason for that.
“Hispanic students make up 60 percent of the San Angelo Independent School District enrollment,” he said, though the number of Hispanics who graduate with degrees in the geosciences and continue on with is minuscule.
This Satterfield finds ironic.
“Our community and West Texas overall is dominantly rural and many students in our region are used to working outside,” he said.
And for as long as he’s been at ASU, Satterfield felt it important to reach these students.
“I have the chance to work with high school students (also middle school and elementary) that may not have considered college as an option, and especially geology as an option,” he said.
He is constantly refining the best way to sell the idea, to teach the discipline. He has narrowed his approach to six steps:
- Provide many opportunities to learn geology in the field, so that students can experience the process of applying terms and concepts to solving problems with real rocks.
- Emphasize describing what you see at the microscopic scale, hand sample scale, outcrop scale or map levels.
- Sketch, draw, draft and discuss many cross-sections and geologic maps in the field and in the lab.
- Get to know students as individuals.
- Work with a small number of students on undergraduate research projects.
- Provide students with opportunities to learn from professionals in the geosciences - especially AAPG members and those experienced in the Permian basin.
On that last point, he does bring in outside guests and experts. One such occasion was his desire to bring Scott Tinker’s award-winning energy film “Switch” to San Angelo.
“The movie was a chance to bring together our students and faculty, San Angelo Geological Society members (an AAPG affiliated society), oil and gas professionals in many areas, and many, many interested community members.”
Was it successful?
“The biggest hall on campus filled up!”
Asking a geology professor to name his favorite course is like asking a mother to name her favorite child.
But Satterfield has an answer.
“Field Geology, GEOL 3600, also known as Summer Field Camp,” he responded.
The reason? Not surprisingly, it’s a five-week course that includes a three-day trip:
- San Angelo to the Guadalupe Mountains on the first day.
- To far western Nevada the second.
- A return to San Angelo from the Big Bend region of West Texas on the last day.
“I also very much enjoy teaching structural geology and igneous and metamorphic petrology,” he added.
Satterfield for the past nine years has been working on a project that delves into the easternmost Laramide and younger fold and faults in the Big Bend Region in Texas.
“I am lucky that we have the freedom and support from our department and administration to design and modify new programs,” he said. “I am lucky to work in a small program.”
Of that and San Angelo he says, proudly yet also modestly, “The big reasons that we are successful is that we focus exclusively on quality undergraduate education. Our program works hard to foster a sense of community between students and faculty, to involve many students in undergraduate research projects and to get students out into the field to work in diverse geologic settings.
“We have an unusual opportunity,” he added, “to change lives and improve our region.”