Career Profile: Tom Repine
Education Specialist, West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Morgantown, WV
Education:B.S., Earth and Space Science Education/General Science, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; M.A., Geoscience/Geology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Ed.D., Curriculum & Instruction/Science Education, West Virginia University.
Description of current positionAs Education Specialist my task is to provide professional development opportunities to West Virginia K-12 science teachers. To this end, I am also the Program Manager for RockCamp. This program provides sustained opportunities for teachers to engage in geology/earth science experiences. I am responsible for the fiscal and operational and educational aspects of the program.
What do you like best about your current work?Adult education and working with science educators. I am constantly amazed at the ability of most of these individuals. They face the same occupational problems we all do, and many more. More specifically, my position offers a lot of freedom and opportunity for creativity. Being able to watch how numerous opportunities have allowed some teachers to expand their abilities and interest in geology to the point where they have become competent geologists in their own right has been fun, interesting, and illustrative. Also, I find the ability to work with educators from local universities vitally important and interesting to maintaining a successful program.
What is most challenging about your current work?Money and philosophy and enabling. The effort to obtain funding is an ongoing battle. The politics, both externally and internally within our agency, to obtain funding are most frustrating. Surprisingly, the problem is not as bad with outside funding sources. For example, I have been successful in working with politicians at the state level and in getting in small grants. A significant portion of my problem seems to reside in a philosophic difference commonly found between professional scientists and professional educators. Being both, I have (I like to think I do) have a boarder view of how and why science knowledge should be disseminated. To that end, I bring to my job a completely non-traditional view. Finally, my job is really that of an "enabler." How can I find a way to provide an extensive number of teachers with not just new opportunities but opportunities that build upon previous ones? To this end, I must be extremely careful about whom I ask to help work with the teachers.
Which experiences that you had before do you find most useful in doing your job?My undergraduate degree in education provided me with three things: (1) a profound desire to be an educator, at some level, (2) the understanding that generalists and science "popularizers" have a role and place in science, and (3) an acceptance among the teachers I work with because we share a commonality of experience.
What do you see as the future of this career field?I consider my position an anomaly. I was able to convince the agency there was a need. I was willing to take on the task and convince them that the outcome would be beneficial to the agency. I am an informal educator who has carved out a niche. If that niche continues to exist within this agency after I leave if still open to speculation.
Are there any myths about your job that you would like to help dispel?I think there is a myth around content and teaching ability. College professors assume they can teach because they know the content. They also assume they can teach teachers how to teach. My professional development mantra for K-12 teachers is to provide ideas that they must modify for inclusion in their unique classroom environment. This applies to content and activities. I have spent much time trying to find and work with the few geologists who can actually do this. I find that in my position as a generalist often allows me to more easily explain and simplify concepts for others. As a result, the specialist's knowledge is not always required, and when required, must often be edited or represented. This can lead to problems with associates.
Career pathMy goal was to be a middle school science teacher. As a generalist, I felt this was the best place me. Suffice to say, my employment as an eighth grade teacher changed that dream. So, I returned to school to get a masters degree. That degree enabled me to obtain a position as a coal geologist with the West Virginia Geological Survey. I maintained this position for 17 years. In 1994, looking for a way to get back into education, I was able to convince the agency director that a permanent educational outreach program would be beneficial to our statewide public relations. With that approval, I was able to build the current program. My interest in doing what I wanted to do (be an educator), and finding an opportunity to do it, came down to a desire to bring something new to a traditional scientific institution. By doing this, I essentially developed a position with more freedom to do what I wanted as I wanted (within limitations).
Advice for graduate studentsBe creative in promoting not only personal talent but also the benefit to the organization. Institutionalized informal education (museums, specific higher education programs, etc.) already exist. However, if the goal is to build a new program within a traditional organization, the most important component is the benefit to the organization. And, the willingness to keep reminding them of it (i.e, be a polite pest!). Also, I have found that I can more effectively deliver my product by surrounding myself with a small team of very trusted people from both within and without. Allegiances with other institutions go a long way to formalizing programmatic respect.
On personal choices and careersFor many years, especially since I got back to the educational field, my profession has been my life. Without this kind of commitment, to me, it would just be a job. For me, the trick is recognizing this truism. I can then proceed with the mindset that doing what I do provides the ability to be creative, do some travel (even if only local), and actually enjoy what I do. When I reach the point where it is no longer enjoyable, then I will reconsider whether I wish to continue or try something else.