It was Alison Lathrop’s fascination with time—rather than an all-consuming interest in rocks—that led her to the study of geology. As an isotope geochemist, she has used a process of radioactive decay time dating to see into a rock’s history; as a teacher, she shows her students how much can be learned about a river’s history or a mountain’s evolution just by observing.
“I take them out, away from the theory that they get in the classroom, and show them how the landscape works,” she says. “What I want them to see is how the land impacts them—it has a bearing on where they live, what they do, how they vote.”
A self-professed “poster child for general education,” Dr. Lathrop was studying music (after several years of teaching Navy helicopter pilots to fly) when she happened into a geology course to fulfill a Bates College general education requirement. It didn’t take long until she was hooked, and when she discovered that geologists “actually get paid for being outside,” her life’s career was decided.
In the classroom or in the field, her goal for students is the development of “a curiosity bordering on reverence” and a healthy skepticism. “The best part of any course is watching students catch fire inside when they realize they can figure something out,” she comments. “Those ‘eureka moments’ are what it’s all about.”