Dr. Mary Louise Hill - Recipient of the 2010 Distinguished Instructor Award

Congratulations to Dr. Mary Louise Hill, recipient of the
2010 Distinguished Instructor Award. 

Geology professor receives 2010 Lakehead University Distinguished Instructor Award
by Frances HardingDr. Mary Louise Hill is an enthusiastic and passionate geologist who believes she can change the world through education - one student at a time. Her approach to teaching is straightforward: "maintain high expectations for student learning, and provide the necessary support to help students succeed." Her teaching dossier is filled with letters from grateful students who trace their success back to her.  In one letter, Victoria Stinson (HBSc'10) praises Dr. Hill for pushing her academic abilities further than she ever thought possible and says, "Now I know that I can push myself ever more."

Mary Louise Hill studied geology at Carleton University in Ottawa and completed her PhD at Princeton University in New Jersey. She taught in the Department of Geology at Temple University, Philadelphia, from 1983 to 1999 before coming to Lakehead to serve as Vice-President (Academic) and Provost for five years with President Fred Gilbert.

Since joining the Department of Geology as a full-time professor in 2004, Mary Louise Hill has been building a research program of field-based geological investigations in Northwestern Ontario. Most of her research projects involve the analysis and interpretation of high-temperature ductile shear zones in Archean rock, including deformation of banded iron formation and implications for economic gold mineralization.

She is a structural geologist with an interest in metamorphic rock - the type of rock that makes up a large part of the Earth's crust and is formed from tectonic processes such as continental collisions. The Canadian Shield is made of metamorphic rock so it makes a terrific field area for her research.

At Lakehead, Mary Louise Hill teaches one of the most popular science courses, a first-year Geology/Environmental Studies course called Planet Earth that attracts students of all ages and backgrounds. It is also videoconferenced to the Orillia campus. Her goal is to break down some of the barriers people have about studying science and to get students to think like scientists by asking "How do we know this is true?" and "How can we test that?"

A bonus for her students (and for the Department of Geology) is her success in encouraging  first-year students to choose Lakehead's honours degree programs in Geology or Environmental Studies and Earth Science.

In her third- and fourth-year classes for geology majors, Mary Louise Hill gets to know individual students "well enough to help them build on their strengths and develop other areas of competence." She is particularly respected for the learning that goes on in her Field Schools and in her classes on Case Studies - where students learn how to make effective oral presentations, defend their ideas with evidence, and participate in scientific debate.

In another course for fourth-year civil engineering majors, Basic Scientific Methods in Geology, she focuses on the interactions between geologists and civil engineers when they work together as a team on a common project. The tests for this course require synthesis, analysis, and evaluation. "By treating students in the class as (almost) professional Engineers, I earn their respect and attention, and everyone learns more."

Research as Teaching

Dissemination of research results to other geologists is also a form of teaching, says Mary Louise Hill, and she gets enormous satisfaction in sharing the results of her research program at conferences and professional meetings. "My research at Musselwhite Mine led to a new geological and exploration model, with results that extended the life of the mine," she says. "Ideas from my current research on shear-zone-hosted gold deposits are being tested through active exploration for gold in Northwestern Ontario, and I am often consulted and then thanked by geologists in the mining and exploration sector for helping them see old rocks in new ways."

Mary Louise Hill is the only female professor in a department that has six full-time faculty members - a statistic which she says is on par with most geology departments in Canada. She is a role model whether she likes it or not and, fortunately for Lakehead, she likes it. Indeed, she says she feels honoured to have had the opportunity to touch people's lives.

One of her former students at Temple University, Dr. Gary Solar, is now an associate professor and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences and Science Education at Buffalo State University in New York. He has received four teaching awards including the 2006 Biggs Award from the Geological Society of America, presented for outstanding Earth science teaching.

Dr. Solar says, "I cannot imagine being an effective teacher without the tremendous research education I have enjoyed ... under the supervision of Mary Lou, both in undergraduate research, then as a master's student. It is people like Mary Lou who afforded me opportunities to be at the forefront of my discipline."

Editor's Note: Dr. Mary Louise Hill will give a public lecture during Lakehead University's Teaching and Learning Week, January 24 to 27, 2011.  A Symposium on Teaching and Learning will be held on January 28, 2011. Details to follow.