HGS Teacher of Year Jody Gibson
It is a great honor to be awarded Houston Geological Society’s 2017-18 Teacher of the Year. As someone who has been in the profession for only eight years, I am quite humbled. Nevertheless, I accept the award in recognition of my service to the many students who have taken my classes.
I was born and raised in Greenville County, South Carolina. At an early age, my family took me to the mountains, within an hour’s drive, to enjoy nature in a variety of forms—hiking, picnicking, swimming, or simply viewing the fall foliage. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced these things, as I am certain that they played a large part in the adult I would one day become.
After graduating high school, I attended Clemson University, enrolling as a Physics major. Within one semester, I realized that Geology was a better choice—not because I disliked Physics, but because I loved my Geology coursework. I will never forget how my Geology 101 professor explained the difference between pahoehoe and aa (two kinds of solidified lava): the first, he said, was smooth and ropy, while the second originated from the Hawaiian exclamation “Aa!!” as they walked barefoot on the rock! Every day was fun with this professor because he had a way of transporting us to some of the most amazing, distant places, all while we sat in a classroom. We did, of course, have field trips, as well. To this day, I consider the caving excursion to Tennessee as one of my life’s great adventures.
I attended graduate school at Penn State University. I received my M.S. in Geosciences after completing a thesis analyzing climate-induced changes to Chesapeake Bay. After a multi-month hiatus from school, during which a friend and I drove from Seattle to Alaska and back, I started a Ph.D. program in Soil Science at Penn State. While this course of study represented a big change for me at the time, now it is clear that the decision was simply an expression of my overall interest in everything Earth Science. I went on to present my work at gatherings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). I was fortunate enough, even, to be invited to present at a very small conference in Spain, whose focus was applications of fractal mathematics in pedology.
I guess it should not be surprising that I married a Geologist! In fact, she is the reason why I ended up in Houston, although we did make a pit stop in Bakersfield, California, for a few years. Actually, it was in Bakersfield that I made the critical decision to go into teaching. Previously, I had been working as an Environmental Geologist, but the job seemed to lack a critical element that prevented it from becoming a career. While the thought of teaching teenagers was quite frightening at first, the decision proved to be one of my life’s best.
After serving as a long-term substitute for a 7th grade Life Science class—one of my first tasks was to instruct the coed group in a week-long sex education course—somehow, I stuck with the profession. In fact, my first full-time teaching position was at a high school in Bakersfield where I was ever so fortunate to teach Earth Science to 9th graders. Obviously, this was more my style, and, despite the typical new teacher trials and tribulations, I thrived. It is amazing how, to this day, I still keep up with some of my students from that first year.
In Houston, I have taught Environmental Science, 8th grade Physical Science, Environmental Sustainability (an engineering course), and Earth and Space Science. I currently work at Energy Institute High School, which is an engineering magnet campus in HISD. The students that attend this school come from all parts of the city, the most diverse in the U.S. Every day there is an adventure, and it satisfies my greater desire to make a difference in the lives of ordinary teenagers. I use the word ordinary intentionally, because I know that some of my students will go on to do extraordinary things; actually, they already have. As an example, our students partnered with Air Alliance Houston and Houston Public Media on one cross-curricular project in 2017. The end result was a suite of podcasts that were shared with local policymakers, ensuring that they could make decisions informed by science and student voice regarding the city’s transportation sector problems. Some of these students went on to present, in person, at a town hall meeting whose purpose was to decide how to allocate money received from the VW clean diesel scandal.
Thank you to the Houston Geological Society for considering me as a candidate and for selecting me as Teacher of the Year. Finally, my students are the reason why I teach, so I would like to send a special thank you to them!