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Relating theory to real rocks

October 8, 2009


James H. Stout.

James H. Stout is a professor of geology and geophysics in the Institute of Technology.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Distinguished teacher Jim Stout has a unique talent for making rocks come alive

By Deane Morrison

In a typical lecture, Jim Stout holds up a rock and asks, "What's unusual about this?" or "How do you know this rock didn't come from Hawaii?" Often, students get answers straight from the source. Stout has led innumerable field trips to places like Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Mt. St. Helens, Canada, and—seven times—Hawaii.

"Jim went out of his way to ensure a quality education by leading at least 15 undergraduates for 10 days in Hawaii, where we went to the tops of volcanoes and the southernmost point in the United States," says one former student. "I learned more in that field experience than in much of the coursework I took."

Stout, says a colleague, is well aware that "he is not a contributor to grade inflation." Yet, present and former students invariably name him as the faculty member who has had the biggest impact on their education and lives.

"[One way] to engage students is teaching by example. When I teach either of our two required summer field camps, students have my undivided attention all day long, for 21 days. We camp together, eat together, and learn together."

Director of undergraduate studies in his department for more than 10 years, he has spearheaded reform of the curriculum to prepare students to deal with complex systems that include interactions between organisms and rocks and human influence on global climate change.

James H. Stout is a 2009 recipient of the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education

Stout's concern for students often goes beyond academics, as in the case of a certain student he helped apply to graduate school. Stout, the younger man noted, also "offered personal experience-based advice on how to maintain a healthy long-distance relationship with my girlfriend (now wife) during my first year of graduate school."

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