Alan Werner

Alan Werner
Faculty Award for Teaching

“Who doesn’t like an Al Werner PowerPoint?” one of his students asks. And wait, there’s more. There are also his “inspiring” field trips, his clear, passionate lectures, and those exotic trips to Svalbard in the High Norwegian Arctic and to the glaciers of Alaska.

Al Werner arrived at Mount Holyoke in 1988 with a brand-new Ph.D. in geology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Already, his research had taken him to the archipelago of Svalbard which is, for those of you who don’t get out much, located midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Among other things, Svalbard is noted for having very explicit gun laws—every adult has to carry a rifle at all times when outside because of the frequent polar bear attacks.

Al received his M.S. from Southern Illinois University and his B.S. from Grand Valley State University. Once at Mount Holyoke, he went on to do research that took him to Svalbard but also to the Alaskan wilderness: Denali National Park, the Ahklun Mountains, and the Kenai Peninsula.

A universal constant in Al’s career has been that wherever he goes he takes his students with him. The travel happens both physically and mentally. His students have trekked with him to examine glacier sediment in Alaska. They have worked with him studying the water supply of South Hadley and the wells of Shutesbury. Al tells us that these water problems aren’t as far removed from his other research as we might think, because glaciers covered this area until about 14,000 years ago. Al’s expertise in glaciology and the history of climate change gives him the tools to help solve today’s water problems.

Students each summer have traveled to Svalbard with him and returned home to complete honors projects based on their field work. Since 2004, he and his colleagues have been leading summer research teams of undergraduates there to do research on climate change.

But also in his classes Al takes his students to these marvelous places by skillful use of very entertaining, interactive PowerPoint presentations, by inventive demonstrations, by carefully chosen movies, and by videos from his own travels. “Who doesn’t like an Al Werner PowerPoint?”

Al’s students praise his “contagious passion,” his “friendliness” and “approachability,” his “excellent preparation,” and his extreme “clarity.” They feel that what they have learned in Al’s classes about groundwater contamination, climate change, coastal erosion, and oceanography, among other things, has given them valuable tools that will prepare them for life after college. Again and again, they attest to the “ton of work” they did, how difficult the class was. But alongside these remarks they write about how rewarding his classes have been, opening their eyes to the full scope of what geology can offer them.

Please join me in celebrating Al’s work and the boundless passion, fascinating locations, and priceless experiences that he has brought to our students, as we grant him the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching.