Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Mother’s Geology Lesson,” by Phil Vargas

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at kamranswanson@gmail.com. For more details, see the original post here.

“Crescat scientia; vita excolatur.” Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched. This is the motto of my alma mater, and my interpretation of this phrase has changed as I have grown as a researcher, an educator, and a father.

As a “numbers guy” I felt as though it is only appropriate for my inaugural blog on the Harold Lounge to be an essay on a non-measurable metric. So I wanted to contribute to this project by sharing a story a former student told me at the end of geoscience survey course that, despite occurring many years ago, is still fresh in my mind.

She was walking with her daughter on the beach when her daughter noticed all of the rocks were flat and smooth, and she asked her mom why. Her mother then explained the weathering processes of the water and the wind. She described what the rock probably looked like thousands of years ago, and how it will likely appear thousands of years from now. She explained the fundamental geological concept of uniformitarianism to her daughter in a pleasant conversation while enjoying a walk along the beach.

She did not tell me this story in class to illustrate she had learned the material in efforts to bolster her grade. She told me this story to say thank you. She said the pride she felt when being able to explain this concept to her daughter was overwhelming and almost brought her to tears. She thanked me for everything I had taught her because she believed it had made her a better mother.

When I was in research my interpretation of “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched” was how I could push frontier science with my work. Standing on the shoulders of giants I was seeing just a little further and expanding knowledge in the scientific community. As an educator my interpretation of this motto has evolved. It is now how the knowledge I impart to my students empowers them to not only transform their lives, but also the lives in their community.

I do not know if this student completed her degree. I do not know if her success in my class lead to a new career. I do know that in my class she learned more about the physical world around her and the processes that shape it. I also know that she took this knowledge and shared it with her family and her community. As a parent, I know that her believing she is now a better mother is a treasure words cannot describe, let alone numbers measure.

Phil Vargas is Professor of Physics and Physical Science at Harold Washington College.

3 thoughts on “Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Mother’s Geology Lesson,” by Phil Vargas

  1. That is a fantastic start to this project, Phil. Great stuff.

    And I don’t mean just the telling of the story. It’s great all the way down. Thanks. Made my day.

    • Thanks, Dave. It’s been awhile since I’ve written an essay, and I enjoyed sitting down to compose this one. You are just lucky I didn’t start it with, Webster’s Dictionary defines measurable as…

  2. As always, I remain your biggest fan. I have read the essays that you composed in grade school, high school and during your college years. You took a very long hiatus. But now, as a Profressor and Father you make me smile with pride. Your talent and gift for the written word is astounding.

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