University of Maine, Farmington
David Gibson's indoors lab classes encourage students to have strong presentation skills. He believes these skills are crucial in helping Geology students develop not only stronger information-gathering skills, but also stronger information-sharing skills. He achieves this by incorporating some unusual teaching methods: For instance, last Tuesday instead of having his students present a formal scientific term paper, his Geology students did poster presentations on topics such as gold mining and volcano formations in Hawaii.
David explains that such unorthodox information gathering methods (i.e., research) are very similar to turning in traditional research papers, but the communication skills obtained in doing presentations are also extremely valuable. When done this way, everyone in the class sees the work and the research — as well as the presentation skills. After all, much of scientific work involves not only hard work and research but presentation skills, sharing and explaining work and research to others.
Because solid presentation skills are so valuable, David involves students in geology research and presentations early on (in intro-level Geology classes) as well as in his more advanced classes.
For example, in his Mineralogy class, a student will be given a "pet rock" and will be asked to tell the him what minerals make up the rock, and to describe its optical properties. Students have to figure out what specimen the rock is — to narrow down and confirm their hypothesis and then present to the class the findings of their research.
David typically uses Maine's rugged western mountains area as a huge working laboratory for his Geology students — from intro-level course to upper-level courses. He strongly believes the outdoors is the lab and that the western Maine area is outstanding in its geological opportunities. David feels there's no better place to do this kind of research, there's such a phenomenal range of glacial features and different types of formations right in UMF's backyard, less than an hour's drive from campus.
Farmington's perfect location is something Geology students at schools in other parts of the U.S. seldom get the opportunity to experience: An incredibly rich and diverse geological laboratory sitting right outside their campus residence halls, just waiting to be explored. For his Petrology classes, for instance, he’ll often take the students to formations in the Farmington area, such as Smalls Falls, and study glacial features.
This week alone, David used the Farmington to Rangeley mountains area to study mineral formations in metamorphic rocks. Sometimes students go to observe rocks and formations up close and personal other times they collect samples of specific rocks and later observe structures and textures, sometimes cutting the samples into ultra-thin sections and observing them under the microscope.
David Gibson is a proponent of using out-of-the-area field trips as well. In fact, his annual Geology field trips are among the most popular offered at Farmington. He has taken groups of students (Geology majors as well as non-Geology majors) on 3-week field trips to places such as Galway and Donegal, Ireland; the Scottish Highlands; and Newfoundland to study geological formations.
In fact, he recently returned from the Isle of Skye where he and a group of students mapped out geological formations on the spectacular, wind-swept island off the north western coast of Scotland.
In addition, David encourages and helps his students participate in professional geological organizations, frequently taking students to professional conferences in Boston, Harrisburg, PA; Saratoga Springs, NY; Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In fact, this is nothing new. The UMF Geology program has a rich tradition of bringing students to professional conferences and often Farmington students are the only undergraduates in attendance. Typically, theses major conferences attract Ph.D.- level students and leading researchers in the field. But the organizations hosting the conferences have come to know that the student attendees from the University of Maine at Farmington are among the most enthusiastic and eager attendees, and the professional organizations look forward to their continued participation. They do this, in part because industry leaders see UMF Geology students as the future of the Geology field and they welcome them.
David believes such early exposure to national and international researchers and scientific presentations helps Geology students to get over whatever intimidation that may have felt about being in the presence of leading scientists — some of whom may have authored their textbooks — and to help his students feel they truly belong in this field of study.
David often sees the conference as confidence — and competence — builders for his students. They get to know the subject, the lead researchers, and the professional science conference format very early in their academic career. It is a very unusual and very valuable opportunity for any college undergraduate.
David Gibson's primary research areas include igneous rocks and plutonic rocks and he enjoys exploring Maine granites.
David is currently involved with some research projects with colleagues on the Maine coast where they are studying rare formations and unknown structures in coastal Maine granites. He also enjoys studying formations in central Maine and other areas.
David recently completed a National Science Foundation grant to study granites on the Maine coast and is working with a colleague at National University of Ireland, Galway to develop a joint research proposal that will allow for a collaborative research and student / faculty exchange program between the University of Maine at Farmington and National University of Ireland, Galway.
He is the past President of the Geological Society of Maine (he is currently a Director) and is the campus representative to the Geological Society of America. David is also involved in a number of other geological organizations.
David has been published in a number of science journals, including Atlantic Geology: The Journal of the Atlantic Geoscience Society, in which he co-authored "Petrology of a Cryptic Mixed System – the Mount Waldo Granite of Coastal Maine.”
Outside of his busy academic life, David enjoys the active outdoor life in western Maine: walking, hiking and skiing with his wife and two daughters. He said he also enjoys playing golf, though he admits he doesn't play very well.
David and his family also take frequent trips back to his native Belfast, Northern Ireland to visit family and friends.