Geoscience education initiatives are an important part of the AAPG Foundation’s mission. Each year the Foundation offers two prestigious Excellence in Teaching awards that recognize educators who demonstrate outstanding leadership in the field of geoscience education.
The Teacher of the Year Award is presented each year to a K-12 teacher within the United States who exemplifies outstanding achievement in teaching earth sciences. The Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award is awarded annually to a college or university educator who demonstrates professorial excellence in higher education geoscience courses. The IGEA award is intended to encourage geoscience professors to share current industry trends and the latest technological advances with students in their undergraduate and graduate courses, further enhancing the field of geoscience research.
The 2018 Teacher of the Year Award
This year’s recipient of the AAPG Foundation’s Teacher of the Year Award is Debbie Morgan, an Earth systems science teacher from South Sevier High School in Monroe, Utah.
Morgan said that science is “extremely critical to helping solve many of our 21st century problems (and) it is my job to contribute to that work by inspiring the next generation of geoscientists and ensuring that all students are earth science literate.”
She does this by encouraging students to “start an educated and thoughtful discussion about the importance of our natural resources and the management of them.”
Morgan has been teaching for 14 years and earned a bachelor’s in geology from Utah State University and a master’s in geosciences from Mississippi State University.
Morgan received her TOTY Award during the All-Convention Luncheon at the Annual Convention and Exhibition, held last month in Salt Lake City.
“I’m here today to offer my sincerest gratitude to the people and organizations without whom this experience wouldn’t have been possible,” she said.
Morgan has conducted student field trips “from wind-formed caves in the Bahamas to sea floor sediments off the Alaskan Coast” and the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz. Three of her students won a national NASA competition to attend a summer workshop event at the NASA Goddard Space Center near Washington, D.C.
“None of these adventures would have been possible if it weren’t for the support and interest of scientists like you,” Morgan told the attendees at ACE. “Thank you for investing in my students’ futures and the ability to provide opportunities that may very well change the world one day – one student at a time.”
South Sevier High School Principal Randy Madsen described Morgan’s innovative techniques in teaching as “keep(ing) students learning, on task and completely engaged.”
“She had her students investigate new technologies relating to the study of the Earth, design their own inventions and share them with the class,” he related.
The AAPG Foundation bestows the TOTY Award with a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $6,000, comprised of $3,000 for Morgan’s personal use and another $3,000 for educational purposes to South Sevier High School’s use under Morgan’s supervision. In addition, Morgan also received an expense-paid trip for herself and her husband to attend ACE to receive the award.
The 2018 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award
Lauren Birgenheier, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, has been named the recipient of the 2018 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award.
She received her award during the Chairman’s Reception at ACE.
“I am honored to receive this Inspirational Educator Award,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I am deeply grateful for the creative, bright and thoughtful graduate students I advise and mentor. It is truly the most rewarding part of my job. Most simply, I give talented students a place to thrive, a few tools and the time to work toward a career that I hope will be equally rewarding for them. Gratefully, they seem to rise to the occasion each time.”
Birgenheier also recognized those who have supported her in her own career.
“I have been very fortunate to have had many advisers and mentors along my own path that showed me, by example, how to connect with, educate and train promising geoscience students. I feel a great deal of satisfaction in designing and helping graduate students carry out research to help answer how will we meet energy needs,” she said.
Throughout her teaching career Birgenheier has led students on multidisciplinary research projects in the Mancos Shale (Uinta, Piceance and San Juan), Green River Formation (Uinta Basin), Wolfcamp Shale (Permian Basin) and Agrio Formation (Neuquén Basin, Argentina). As faculty adviser, she led her University of Utah student team to an AAPG Imperial Barrel Award win in 2013, as well as second place in the AAPG Rocky Mountain Section in 2015 and 2017.
Birgenheier holds a bachelor’s in geology from Colorado College and a geosciences doctorate from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at the University of Utah for more than five years, including courses in petroleum systems, depositional environments, petroleum industry career path capstone and the Imperial Barrel Award Competition. She also served as technical program chair at this year’s ACE.
Cari Johnson, professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, said that Birgenheier’s “record documents remarkable success in teaching, mentoring and advising a large and talented body of graduate and undergraduate students, particularly at this relatively early stage of her career. This is a diverse group on many levels, and I can personally attest to Lauren’s strong advocacy on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM and the spirit of inclusion in all aspects of her professional life.”
The AAPG Foundation bestows the Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award with a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $6,000.
The AAPG Foundation was established in 1967 with the primary goal of providing a source of funding for educational, charitable and scientific objectives, which directly and indirectly benefit the geoscience profession and the general public. The Teacher of the Year award honors that intention by giving this accolade to the heart of geoscience educational initiatives – grades K-12. The Teacher of the Year award began in 1996 and has since honored 21 outstanding earth science teachers across the country. The Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award (formerly known as the Professorial Award) also supports the AAPG Foundation’s education initiative by bestowing honor and recognition to those dedicated to geoscience in higher education who inspire and motivate students in their pursuit of geological careers. The IGEA began in 2012 and has since honored seven outstanding geoscience professors.