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Ed Roy: Thinking and teaching in Texas

Throughout his academic career as professor of geology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Edward C. Roy Jr. has championed geology for elementary and high school students, as well as for undergraduates. Now chair of the education advisory committee for the American Geological Institute (AGI), he has run science fairs and is currently a member of the mentoring committee of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

On Nov. 2, Ed Roy is receiving both the William B. Heroy Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to AGI and the Ian Campbell Medal, AGI’s highest award. Photo courtesy of Trinity University.

So when his home state of Texas dismissed earth sciences from required school curricula in 1998, Roy ignited a letter-writing campaign. Dropping everything — from space to oceans to rocks — could only be a mistake in a state that is indebted to sedimentary and petroleum geology, Roy said (Geotimes, September 2002). The campaign came to a head last year, and the Texas State Board of Education decided to review their decision. The board established an Earth Science Task Force, over which Roy presides. The task force presented their arguments in September, and a vote on the curriculum issues will take place early next year (Geotimes, September 2003).

“It’s very frustrating and a kind of an affront to geologists and those in the earth sciences, [but] Ed has kept his cool,” says Rodger Bybee, who testified last year at the first meeting in Texas and has worked with Roy on committees for the National Research Council, AGI and elsewhere. Even though Roy is a practical academic, he also understands that policy at the state level impacts education, and he has “the demeanor and diplomacy” necessary for political situations, says Bybee, executive director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“He’s just a wonderful person, and he gets the job done,” says Robert Ridky, education coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey.

As an administrator at Trinity from 1986 to 1999, Roy also championed science education, underscoring its importance to colleagues and policy makers. His first experiences in education policy with AGI (which he also served as president in the mid-1990s) were, he says, “a major catalyst” for his subsequent work with the National Research Council Board on Earth Science and Resources.

In recognition of his work, Roy will receive both the William B. Heroy Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to AGI and the Ian Campbell Medal, AGI’s highest award, on Nov. 2, at this year’s annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, an AGI member society, in Seattle. Both honors are named for outstanding, multifaceted geologists who served AGI and geology — as has Roy.

Roy’s commitment to education and geology began when he was a boy. His father was a family physician in Cleveland, Ohio, at a time when doctors made house calls and had long office hours. “He would come home late and work into the night on his hobbies, one of which was polishing rocks, or lapidary,” Roy says. “Our family went around the country, and part of our vacations was collecting rocks.” While his father was searching for rocks to polish (some of which Roy still possesses), the 10-year-old Roy was wondering where the rocks came from.

In college, Roy abandoned plans to become a medical doctor to instead become a geologist. He took his first geology course as a senior at the Ohio State University in Columbus, eventually earning his Ph.D. there in paleontology and sedimentary geology. He worked briefly for Shell Oil before entering academia in 1966, when he joined the faculty at Trinity University.

In his first year of teaching, he earned Trinity’s Outstanding Professor Award. Roy taught full-time until he was tapped to serve as dean and then vice president of the university’s academic affairs. He recently rejoined the geology department that he once chaired for several years, where he now serves as the Gertrude and Walter Pyron Distinguished Professor of Geology, teaching a full course load once again.

Roy’s childhood field experiences may have influenced his later philosophy of teaching: get students into the field. “This is the place where undergraduates should learn geology,” he says. “To find a fossil in the rock is different than picking it up out of a drawer some place.” That context, he says, opens up the minds of students when we’re in the classroom and in the lab.” Trinity’s geology department makes fieldwork an integral part of teaching. Departmental field trips put students and professors in the field together, where older students mentor younger ones, as they puzzle out field relations.

After taking introductory geology from Roy, Scott Tinker says he decided against becoming a lawyer. Now director of the Bureau of Economic Geology in Texas, Tinker says that Roy’s passion for geology and teaching “hooked me and changed my life.”

Tinker calls Roy “one of those gentlemen of geology” and “a gifted educator,” concerned about making the geosciences relevant to people at any age. Roy, he says, has taken on the huge challenge of offering young students a real-world perspective of the earth sciences. “He believes that the time to capture [students’] imaginations in the earth sciences is when they all have a natural affinity for it — with dinosaurs, earthquakes, mountains — everybody loves it when they’re kids,” Tinker says.

Today, Roy says that he loves to teach kids (his grandchildren included). He recently hosted a third-grade class from an inner-city school in his college classroom, an experience that proved to him that geology can cross any language barriers. “A third of those kids don’t speak English, but you don’t have to speak English,” Roy says. “[They] see those pretty rocks — pink feldspar and quartz — and you can communicate with them.”

Naomi Lubick

"Earth Science in Texas: A Progress Report," Geotimes, September 2002
"Evolution debate continues in Texas," Web Extra, Geotimes, September 2003

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