Career Profile: Megan Jones
North Hennepin Community College
Click on a topic below, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Teaching "Science for All" * Scholarly activities * Service * Balancing responsibilities * Advice for new faculty
Teaching "Science for All"
The vast majority of Megan Jones' students will never be scientists, and even fewer will become geologists. Most of her students take geology to satisfy a science and/or a lab requirement. As a result, she feels that her responsibility is to teach her students what every person should know about science. Megan tells her students on the first day of class that her goal is for them to learn what science is, how it works, what it looks like (both when it is working well, and when it is not working), and what isn't science. She wants them to gain some confidence and familiarity with the process of science, so that, ultimately, they can support and encourage their kids with their science and math homework, rather than shying away from those subjects because they are "too hard."
Given her teaching goals, Megan feels it is essential to give her students the time they need to practice the process of doing science: forming questions, making observations, and analyzing and interpreting data. Hers is a very hands-on, learner-centered classroom. Through practice, her students learn that they can do what scientists do. They come to understand why science is not always clear-cut, and is sometimes quite complex. They become better-informed citizens. In many ways, Megan feels that these results are as important as any science content she might teach.
The path to her current teaching position and philosophy was not straight. As Megan was finishing her PhD at Louisiana State University, she began applying and interviewing for college and university faculty positions. Interviewing was an eye-opener, she says: she went into her first campus interview thinking that she "had" to get the job, and left hoping that they wouldn't offer it to her. She knew that if they did she would take the job, despite recognizing that it was not a good fit for her.
Through a process of introspection, Megan decided that what she really wanted to do was move back to Minnesota, where she had grown up. Not knowing how she would earn a living, back she went. When she got to Minneapolis, she paid a visit to Bill Seyfried, the chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Minnesota. She asked about adjunct teaching opportunities, and she was in luck. As a result, Megan was on a departmental email list when a note came through about teaching openings in the metro area community colleges.
Ironically, although Megan had attended a community college herself, she had forgotten they existed when she was thinking about employment opportunities. But, when she interviewed at North Hennepin Community College, she knew it was the right place for her. Although the building felt like a high school, she felt her future colleagues were the kind of people she wanted to work with: scientists and innovative thinkers. In addition to teaching an introductory-level geology class, they asked Megan if she would teach a backpacking geology class in Colorado, and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). When they asked her if she'd be interested in developing some field-based Minnesota geology courses, she thought, "Perfect—I'll get paid to do what I love!" And she has not been disappointed.
The North Hennepin Community College administration supports and encourages the faculty to engage in scholarly activity. However, the teaching load (~15 credits or 20 contact hours per semester, whichever comes first) often precludes such activity. Using faculty professional development funds, Megan has attended GSA almost every year she's been at NHCC. Several times she has presented papers, and twice she's been able to bring along two of her students, who were involved in work she presented. Megan has also co-convened geoscience education sessions and K-12 geoscience workshops at both national and regional GSA meetings.
One exciting project Megan is involved in is the Teaching Inquiry-Based Minnesota Earth Science (TIMES) project. It's a two-week field-based geoscience course for middle and high school teachers. The goals of the course are to provide the teachers with geologic field experience in their region, develop connections with geologists that work in their area, and model active learning techniques which can be translated into the classroom and into a field investigation for their students. For many in-service and almost all pre-service teachers, TIMES can fulfill part of their licensure renewal requirements. Most teachers remark that TIMES was very successful in enhancing their confidence and increasing the geoscience content taught in their classrooms. In addition, their students' engagement in and response to the required (by TIMES) field-investigation really surprises the teachers and affirms to them that little by little they can incorporate into their classroom the inquiry-based techniques promoted by TIMES.
When Megan started teaching at NHCC, there was only one introductory geology course (physical geology). To add historical geology and oceanography courses to the curriculum, she had to apply to the college's Curriculum Committee. Through this process, Megan realized that she would like to have some input on academic and curricular issues at the college. For the past six years, she has served on the Academic Affairs and Standards Council (a contracted body which evolved from the Curriculum Committee), and chaired the Council from 2003-2004.
Megan has also served as vice president (2003-2004), president (2004-2005) and treasurer (2005-2006) for the Minnesota chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists.
Strategies for balancing work responsibilities, or for balancing work and personal life
"Practice saying 'No!'" Megan suggests, and be sure to include fun and laughter in every day!
Advice for early career geoscience faculty
Megan's advice for new faculty members is based very strongly on her own experience: trust your instincts about what's right for you. To do this herself, Megan says, she had to stop listening to the frightened inner voice that was yelling at her, telling her to follow everyone else's footsteps to a four-year college or university. She had to get over the mindset that seems very prevalent in graduate schools: that the purpose of getting a PhD is to teach at such an institution. Remember that there are other options, and one size does not fit all. If you're not exactly sure what you want to do, Megan advises, be clear about what you love, so that you don't lose that part when you choose your path.