[Note: This is the Statement of Intent I submitted in 1996 to the Columbia College Hiring Committee when I applied for the job I currently hold (Earth Science/GIS/GPS Instructor).]
Statement of Intent, Qualifications, Cultural Diversity, and Experience by Jeffrey W. Tolhurst
In this letter I would like to express my reasons for interest in the Earth Science/GIS faculty position at Columbia College as well as explain my qualifications for the position. I will demonstrate my knowledge, skill, experience, and abilities by citing specific examples from my teaching background. I will also answer the application questions about my: 1) experiences with cultural diversity; 2) development and use of innovative curricula; and 3) currency and professional growth in the subject area.
I attended Monterey Peninsula Community College after high school and was greatly influenced by two instructors who believed in my capacity to succeed. I was unsure of my career goals and future aspirations at that time and after taking a geology class I made that my major. I was inspired by the positive attitudes of my teachers; their actions made a difference in my learning. Both of my parents were teachers and I place a very high value on education and critical thinking as a means of problem solving in my own life. I've also attended Santa Barbara City College, first to gain technical skills in an Earth Science Technology program, then as a re-entry student following a career change from a geologist to a teacher. I had decided to go back to school to teach earth sciences at the high school level and needed some prerequisites to get into the teaching credential program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a student at Santa Barbara City College, I was a bit older and wiser having worked and traveled throughout the western United States. There I met another influential instructor who gave me my first experience in teaching. He asked me to teach two disabled students to use computers. I enjoyed the experience and immediately saw the value of technology in being able to improve one's quality of life. I think my personal developmental history combined with overall positive experiences has been a primary reason for wanting to teach community college students. I don't think I've been too different from a typical community college student - one in search of career goals, acquiring technical skills, and in the midst of a career change. I've really valued and appreciated the California Community College system.
Columbia College is located in a unique part of California. It is close to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, two areas of great scenic and recreational value. The region is rapidly developing and is home to valuable natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals. Important land use decisions must be made in order to manage these resources and land use changes appropriately. Natural hazards such as flooding, landsliding, avalanches, earthquakes, and fires are prone to affect the area. To cope effectively with resource, hazard, and land use issues, we need a scientifically literate citizenry. I believe our greatest resource is in education and the ability we have in terms of our problem solving capacity. My vision for the earth science program at Columbia College is one that teaches students to think critically and become scientifically literate by constructing their own knowledge through accessing and processing the latest earth science information using advanced technological tools. These skills will help all of us to make appropriate decisions both in terms of public and personal policies. My reasons for applying for this job are centered around wanting to contribute to a healthy learning community as a teacher and a learner. Let me show how my experiences qualify me for the job.
Experience as a part-time or full-time instructor at the community college level.
Last year (1994-95) I taught Physical Geology, Environmental Geology, and Meteorology as an associate faculty member at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. The long-time geology instructor had retired and the college was unsure of what to do with the program during this period of change. My hiring gave me the opportunity to rewrite the program review for Geology and Meteorology, giving coherence to, and revitalizing an antiquated earth sciences curriculum. The area experienced an earthquake, some flooding, and a tsunami alert, which helped to raise the awareness of the importance of earth science. Through my instructional design, I was able to inspire students to learn more about their environment and to encourage them to teach other students and faculty on campus about what to do should a large magnitude quake strike the immediate vicinity. Enrollment in geology classes increased, the program was restored, and student interest was high when I left for the University of South Carolina.
Between 1989 and 1991 I taught an extension course through Gavilan Community College in Gilroy, California entitled "Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Geology of San Benito County". The course was offered (one Saturday a semester for about 5 semesters) in response to the public's desire to learn more about the seismology and tectonics of central California following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Students ranged in age from the mid 20's to about 70. Some were real estate agents that wanted information on the Alquist-Priolo Act; others were homeowners desiring information on how to fortify their homes; and another portion were interested for personal growth and safety reasons. I enjoyed the diversity of students and I think they enjoyed the mixture of in-class and field experiences I designed into the course.
Additionally, my experience teaching middle school, high school, and university students helps me to know the abilities and developmental levels of students at both ends of the community college pipeline.
Enthusiasm for the subject matter and for teaching.
I feel very fortunate. I have found my passion in life - teaching the geosciences. My happiest moments teaching have come when students and I relate as colleagues, learning together. I think I've probably learned as much from my students about teaching, learning, communicating, social interaction and behavior, psychology, and about myself as they have from me as their earth science instructor. I strive for frequent contact with my students in and outside of the classroom. I especially like field trips where I can relate with students on a different, less formal level. I think one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about teaching is observing how my students respond to new pedagogical strategies. I have experienced a deep sense of joy and satisfaction in seeing my students take responsibility for their learning, while interacting healthily with peers. It seems easy for me to be enthusiastic about my teaching when students desire to know more about landslides, rivers, mysterious rock and mineral samples, glaciated valleys, or when they raise concerns about population, pollution, land-use changes, resource extraction, energy, water, earthquakes, or other natural hazards. I'm overjoyed when I see them begin to construct a mental scaffolding within which they plug these concepts. Something else that helps me to remain enthusiastic is that I'm learning more and more about teaching and as I do so, I become better and better at my job. What I try out tends to be increasingly effective in terms of connecting people to one another, breaking the isolation that can be so counterproductive to learning. Having a positive attitude has helped me tremendously in my career. It may be the single-most important factor in my teaching. It has helped me to maintain enthusiasm while coping with the challenges of teaching science, for example, in a classroom of 35 ninth grade students with one electrical outlet and no water during a one and a half year remodeling project. Some of the strongest (and most satisfying) testimonies of my enthusiasm have come from my students and peers in their evaluations of my teaching.
Willingness to experiment with various teaching methods as assessment techniques.
I place a high value on experimentation in my teaching. I'm currently enrolled in the geology program at the University of South Carolina, which offers a Ph.D. in geological education through the Center for Science Education. I'm working on measuring cognitive, affective, and psychomotor gains resulting from a geological simulation game I've developed. The simulation teaches first and second year college students to develop geological models used to solve problems related to resource and land management issues. The primary objectives are to teach students to think critically, work cooperatively, and promote a positive attitude toward science and the environment. Simulation learning has been shown to promote diversity and multicultural values. I've used a miniature version of the simulation to authentically assess student's abilities to problem solve.
During the fall of 1995, I presented research findings on authentic and portfolio assessment I used in a lower division college environmental geology course at a conference on assessment sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. I used a socio-scientific model designed to teach and evaluate decision-making skills. Instead of giving an objective multiple choice type test for the midterms and final exam, students were given some information about an environmental scenario for which they were to generate questions they thought were important. They were asked to justify these questions in the context of making an informed decision about what to do next in the scenario. The class was told that their claims would be evaluated based on how well they were supported by evidence and examples. Anecdotal data showed that students found the model difficult to cope with at first, due to their unfamiliarity with something radically different than the "normal" assessment. By the end of the semester, however, they thought the exams more closely modeled the real-life decision-making process they constantly use.
In 1989 a colleague of mine and I wrote and received an environmental education grant for $80,000. We spent $40,000 creating a computer lab for science students at San Benito High School. The only other high schools in our region with computer labs at that time were in Palo Alto and Cupertino. They were primarily using their computers for journalism classes, which didn't fit with our goals and objectives (to teach critical thinking/scientific reasoning), so we struck out on our own. One of the courses I developed was an earth science technology class for seniors, which taught them to use a computer as an information processing and visual presentation tool. The multimedia lab was one of the most fertile learning environments I've been involved with. My classes have historically been project-driven efforts and the computer lab gave me the opportunity to infuse technology into the curriculum. My students and I learned together how to network, troubleshoot, upgrade, and add on to the lab. We were telecommunicating with other students and teachers before the internet became widespread. Following a peer review process, several of my students presented their projects at a conference on population put on by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1991. I would like to continue to extend some of these authentic assessment experiences to the community college level with GIS and multimedia applications.
I have developed and used other methods to promote and assess active learning in my classes including: cooperative learning research projects that culminate in a poster session (where student findings are peer reviewed in a public forum); multimedia projects designed to promote research, communication, cooperation, computation, and evaluation skills (students are required to present their research findings to peers in a 10 minute multimedia presentation - two or more media forms are used); 3-level reading guides that help students to make meaning out of their textbooks and improve recall of information; analytical skills inventories (Whimbey test used to teach students to reason more effectively); and writing assignments. I use writing assignments as both cross-sectional and longitudinal assessments of student progress. Snapshots or cross-sections of student writing help me to assess, at a given point in time, how students clarify thinking, summarize learning (abstracts), improve interviewing skills, and improve decision-making skills (case-study summaries and recommendations). Learning logs or journal writing (used to encourage students to reflect on what they think and how they feel in class) serve as longitudinal assessments of student growth through time. I've also used other assessment strategies such as written and oral exit interviews, one on one oral exams, individual audio tapes to solicit and give feedback, and I've videotaped class sessions for self-assessment purposes (which, among other things, models this behavior for students).
Ability to work successfully with students of various age and skill levels as well as diverse backgrounds.
My experience with a diversity of students has been challenging and fulfilling at the same time. Over 60% of my students at College of the Redwoods were female. Of all my students there, some were in their 50's, while most ranged between 18 and 35 in age. Their reasons for attending the school varied and can be categorized into five general groups: 1) students wanting to transfer to a 4-year school; 2) students wanting some sort of vocational training; 3) re-entry students who had work experience, but wanted to be retrained for a different type of career; 4) students in need of basic skills; and 5) the community member that wanted to broaden his or her knowledge base. The range of student experience in my classes was a valuable resource from which to draw during each semester. For example, I had a fire captain from the California Division of Forestry in my meteorology class that brought in his own videos of fire vortices, which helped the class learn about cyclogenesis and how fire-fighting is intimately connected with local and larger scale weather phenomena.
I've taught 7th graders to senior citizens during my career. At Santa Barbara City College I tutored two wheelchair-bound students in use of computers for one semester. I've also tutored a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for a semester at Humboldt State University. He had been homeless and had, at that point, worked over 150 different jobs since his tour of duty ended. I have taught students with a range of learning disabilities including dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADD) at San Benito High School. For four years I taught one to two sections per semester of bilingual earth science that was composed primarily of Latino students, but included some Asian students. Most of the students came from central America and Mexico. Many were from migrant families. It was important for me to emphasize the value of and links between their home culture and the dominant culture in which they were being educated. I felt competent doing this because I have lived with a family in Mexico for a summer and traveled within the country for different periods of time. I learned more about my bilingual students in their journals as they told me about themselves and their needs. Many of their stories were very poignant. I use similar techniques at the University of South Carolina, where my classes are composed of 34% African American students and a smaller proportion from the Pacific Islands, east India, Vietnam, and Japan. These students have a variety of life experiences that help to make the classroom culture very stimulating as they share the earth science stories from their homeland with the rest of us.
The range in skill level of my students has been extreme. Some students from central America enrolled in my bilingual class tested below the 2nd grade level in Spanish - they were illiterate and grouped heterogeneously with other students that desired to attend American universities. I used cooperative learning strategies and individual attention from my aide to help these students as best I could. I've also taught students with advanced degrees from college. For example, some local business people in Hollister, California, wanted to learn more about seismology, tectonics, and earthquake safety in my Gavilan College extension course.
Committed to professional development as related to pedagogy, new technologies, and new developments in the content area.
Over the past few years I have been involved in research in both geology and geological education. My geological research has required that I learn the latest technologies to gather, process, and present information to my peers in the geological community. My master's thesis (1995) involved analyzing the dynamics of river channel adjustments due to human and natural causes along a portion of the Mad River in Humboldt County, California. Much of my data was used in an environmental impact report to Humboldt County on the effects of gravel extraction from the river. I needed to learn, or improve upon, remote sensing techniques (aerial photo interpretation), computer mapping and analysis skills (AutoCAD, GIS), and surveying skills (total geodetic station, GPS). I also took courses in geographic information systems, global positioning systems, hillslope and fluvial processes, paleoseismology, engineering geology, soils geomorphology, sediment budgeting, applied geophysics, environmental systems data collection and analysis, and environmental politics.
I must qualify my experience with GIS and GPS. The GIS course work was at the graduate level, taken in 1992. The primary objectives were to teach the concepts of data input, output, quality, management, and GIS analysis functions. I used a vector data model with ArcInfo to perform overlay analyses of geomorphic features in which I correlated lithologic units, slope aspect, faulting, and landsliding. I also took a short course in GPS techniques. The course objectives were to teach students to use the geology department's hand-held GPS station. I also learned to import the data into a computer with interfacing software. We did no postprocessing except to produce a map from the data collected. Although I wanted to use a GIS for a portion of my thesis analysis, the geology department at Humboldt State University hadnŐt yet obtained the requisite hardware. I learned AutoCAD by working with a consulting firm in Arcata and used it to perform my overlay analyses of spatial changes along the lower Mad River through time. I also learned to port survey data into AutoCAD using a data collector and total geodetic station. The data were used to do "cut and fill" analyses to assess river channel changes through time - necessary for the reclamation portion of environmental impact reports our clients paid for. My other experience with GIS occurred this past fall at the University of South Carolina. I collaborated with a colleague from the Institute for Environmental Policy and used a simulation he developed to teach students decision-making skills with a GIS. The model we used (still in the development phase) was a simulation called The Siting Game, which assigned each student in the class a role to play. Using ArcView, students gathered information to help them site a landfill in their county. I taught them how to navigate through the different thematic layers to find information critical to their decision-making process.
Most recently at the University of South Carolina, my focus has been on geoscience education and how the earth sciences are taught and learned. My courses have included science education curriculum and assessment reform, statistics for education and behavioral sciences, community/junior/technical colleges, principles of college teaching, and palynology (the study of pollen in paleoecological and modern environmental reconstructions). The Center for Science Education focuses on research in environmental and geological education. We are particularly interested in active learning and approaches that build both student and teacher competence in earth science. We use a constructivist approach in teaching students and teachers to critically think as they build their own conceptual frameworks of how their environment works. The principle of holism underlies the approaches we take. The Center staff has done work with merging affective and psychomotor objectives with cognitive objectives, which is one of the primary reasons I chose to come here.
In addition to my studies, I serve on an advisory committee for the Geological Society of America's Earth and Space Science Technological Education Project (ESSTEP). The project is currently seeking National Science Foundation (NSF) funding and its objectives are to: 1) increase faculty knowledge of and access to computer, information, and remote sensing technologies; 2) enhance faculty expertise in the use of: the internet, distance learning, CD-ROMs, laserdiscs, multimedia, GIS, GPS, and satellite and shuttle imagery; 3) infuse those technology applications into the undergraduate and secondary earth and space science curricula; 4) enhance faculty pedagogical knowledge and skills with respect to technological education; and 5) promote faculty and student awareness of the skill and knowledge needed to pursue technical careers in the earth and space sciences. In addition ESSTEP will enhance interactions between two- and four-year college faculty and 8-12 educators, create a laboratory manual of computer-based earth and space science activities, and promote better curriculum articulation in grades 8-14.
Other experiences pertinent to the position include working as science department chairperson at San Benito High School, where I used a participatory democracy, or shared governance style of decision-making. I also served as president of the San Benito County Gem and Mineral Club and was editor of the club's newsletter. I learned to delegate responsibilities under a democratic system, while carrying out a vision for the club. My experience as a member of, and secretary for, the San Benito County Amateur (HAM) Radio Club allowed me to contribute to the community in terms of emergency response and support following the Loma Prieta earthquake. I have also given talks to community service groups, such as the Hollister Rotary Club, and have led in-services for my own school district and others on the use of multimedia technology and computer use in science education. I have judged science fairs for elementary, middle, and high schools. I helped to co-author a book about the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake on San Benito County that was published in 1990 by Seismic Publications. I have also been interviewed twice by the local television news stations - once on the Loma Prieta earthquake and another time when my 10th grade earth science class and I were asked about our opinions on teaching evolution versus creation in the science classroom. For all of my efforts in teaching earth science I was presented with two awards that I think are significant. The first was from the National Association of Geology Teachers (NAGT), the second was from the Geological Society of America (GSA). These led to opportunities to participate in both the Mt. St. Helens Project - a study of the Cascade Range volcanoes by 30 teachers selected from different parts of the United States - and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in Colorado Springs - an evaluation of evolution curriculum by 10 teams of earth science and biology teachers selected from the throughout the United States.
The summer before I began teaching high school I worked in Yellowstone National Park as a field technician collecting microgravity data for the University of Utah. I used a field computer to transduce the data. Before that I worked as a hydrologic technician for the United States Geological Survey for three years. I was based out of Santa Barbara, CA., and worked in almost every state west of Colorado. My responsibilities included operating and trouble-shooting field equipment such as spontaneous potential, resistivity, and natural gamma wireline logging tools, as well as collecting, interpreting, and managing that and other field data. I gained valuable experience working long, rigorous hours in the field, combined with learning to use a computer as a tool to process scientific data. At Monterey Peninsula Community College I was a member of the Northern California State Championship Cross Country Team in 1978 and in high school I lettered in 5 different sports and was awarded the sportsmanship award my senior year.
To summarize, I think my record of experience shows that I am qualified to teach earth science and GIS technology at the community college level. I continue to use innovative teaching techniques in my classes and have demonstrated my experience with community college students and the understanding I have of their needs. I am enthusiastic about geology, technology, and teaching and have been willing to try new approaches in order to learn more about teaching and assessing critical thinking and cooperative skills. I understand the changing demography of California and am committed to valuing diversity and change. My experience as a community college student, a technician, and as professional in the fields of teaching and geology gives me the practical and theoretical basis I believe I need in order to teach effectively.
firstname.lastname@example.org Last Updated: Monday, August 12, 2013