School of Rocks

By Evan Herbison

Horizon Reporter

As students file out of the classroom, leaving only a few stragglers talking quietly amongst themselves, geology teacher Bernie Dougan busily pushes around small carts of specifically labeled and categorized rocks. Each specimen teems with character – all sorts of colors, textures, and patterns are represented on the various rocks.

After organizing all of his example pieces and answering a few stray questions from curious students, Dougan is finally done with classes for the day.

“Geology is always changing,” said Dougan. “Something new is always happening.”

Time spent outside and an earth science class early on inspired Dougan to pay attention to geological happenings, and his interest quickly developed from there.

Dougan met colleague Doug McKeever while attending college to become a teacher. McKeever recalls Dougan as a hardworking student, who quickly picked up meteorology (a subject required of a geology teacher, but which he had no prior experience in). After being hired to teach Geology 100 at Whatcom, Dougan quickly branched out to teach several other geology and earth-related classes, including the ever popular hiking class, PE 126.

Some 20 years later, it seems that Dougan’s work ethic is one thing that hasn’t changed. Despite working as an adjunct instructor, he’s maintained a full teaching load every quarter since being hired, with the only exception being one summer spent hiking in New Zealand.

Such trips are certainly not unusual for Dougan, however. His experience hiking distant locations is nothing short of tremendous.

From the volcanoes in Hawaii to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Dougan has seen it, hiked it, and photographed the whole experience for his students and anybody passionate about hiking and nature.

One major aspect of Dougan’s classes that attracts students and gets them truly passionate about the subjects is the abundance of field trips and general real-world experience.

“It’s a good way to apply what we do in the class,” said Dougan.

“Masterful,” said McKeever, of Dougan’s ability to get students thinking.

“That’s one thing I really admire about him,” said McKeever. “He takes them somewhere he wants them to see and asks questions without giving them all the answers.”

Students seem to respond well to the hands-on approach. Dougan describes most of the students as spirited and energetic about the experiences, and says that most students recall the trips as the most memorable part of the class.

One of the favorite field trips Dougan takes his students on is to Sucia Island, a popular location for outdoor activities in the San Juans. Twice a year, his students eagerly await the trip, which has become somewhat of a tradition.

The island has a colorful history ranging from hunting and fishing land for the Lummi Indian tribe to a smuggling hideout during Prohibition, and is now a state park.

Another practice that sets Dougan as a teacher is his maintenance of a Web page for his students, with virtual field trips and an enormous list of helpful, reliable class resources.

He encourages students to always check their instructors’ Web pages, because he answers many of his students’ common questions on or through his site. He and his colleagues often provide extensive quality Internet resources through their Web pages.

Dougan especially likes to use picture galleries on his site to draw students into the world of geology.

“Geology is very visual,” said Dougan. He believes the photo galleries help students to connect what they’re studying with real life. Numerous major trips stretching back over 10 years, from Tasmania to Alaska and all over the Cascades, have associated photo galleries.

The passion with which Dougan instructs his students is undeniable. Students rave about his classes, often describing a dramatic increase in their love for the subject after taking a class from him.

It would seem that his passion is truly infectious. A fairly common saying among past students is the same thought that Dougan himself readily expresses: “I’m always thinking about geology.”

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