2020 GSA Public Service Award

Presented to Timothy Bechtel

Timothy Bechtel

Timothy Bechtel
Franklin & Marshall College


Citation by Carol B. de Wet; Franklin & Marshall College

I am delighted that Dr. Timothy (Tim) Bechtel is this year’s awardee. Tim is a Teaching Professor and Director of the Science Outreach program at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. He is also employed by an environmental consulting firm, Rettew Associates, as a Senior Geophysicist, and was a founding co-owner of a geophysical consulting company, Enviroscan, for 26 years.

His research productivity is remarkable with over 35 conference presentations, 16 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 8 book chapters. His enthusiasm for public engagement has led to over 50 science outreach and public talks since 2016!

Tim has served the public in several different but important ways; facilitating and directing college student involvement in public school STEM education, organizing free, family-oriented, hands-on science activity events, giving talks on his own research or Earth Science current events to civic organizations (libraries, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.), and using his professional geophysics expertise for humanitarian land mine detection and de-mining applications.

He has served as the Director of a public school science teaching program since 2014. For the past four years he has overseen this program that began as an internship for credit through Franklin & Marshall College but has grown and developed into a regular Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) course whereby primarily STEM undergraduate majors teach hands-on, inquiry-based science classes in the School District of Lancaster (SDoL) public schools. SDoL school students are predominantly from underserved communities, primarily Hispanic and African-American, many are immigrants and English language learners, and approximately 90 percent receive free or subsidized school meals. The teaching course brings a diverse range of college students directly into SDoL classrooms and the K-middle school children benefit from being taught by enthusiastic young role models who have a passion for STEM and can convey that to younger learners. This program has involved approximately 700 college students teaching 13,000 SDoL students over its 19 year history. Tim’s involvement and role as Director shifted it from a side project for a previous faculty member overseeing it, to the point where the program has its own office, budget, and formal affiliation with a former SDoL STEM teacher/administrator. She works closely with Tim and the F&M students to ensure high quality, age-appropriate, inquiry-based science lessons plan for each participating K-middle school class.

For the past three years, Tim has been organizing college student volunteers to produce monthly family science nights on-campus or out in the community (at libraries, schools, and museums). These events are free and open to the public, and provide multiple hands-on activities for children and their parents. Themes have included the planets, sea shells, magnetism, optical illusions, evolution, dinosaur tracks, the science of magic, etc. Tim’s public exposure also leads to frequent invitations to speak to civic or school groups about his research, or current events in Earth Science.

Tim’s commitment to the public good has made him a great fit for the GSA Public Service Award. He has impacted thousands of public school children and hundreds of undergraduate students. The undergraduates often explain that they learn as much as the children through the teaching program, and SDoL teachers repeatedly sign up for the F&M STEM students to come to their classes, noting how well their learners respond to the hands-on learning approach. Tim originally took on the faculty role for this program as an extra teaching assignment, working on it in his spare time. His success with the program led to the Directorship role.

Tim is a geophysicist and has worked in the discipline as professional, a professor, and a researcher. He has published in top journals, including Nature, on deep earth and near-surface geophysics. Over the past 15 years, Tim has, however, turned his considerable talents to developing low cost, effective, and safe ways to find buried land mines. As of November 2018, land mines contaminate sixty countries in both hemispheres, and the number of casualties (over 7,000 in 2018, approximately half of them children) has been rising for the past four years. Children are often the victim of landmine explosions due to their curiosity about objects that they see partially buried in the ground, with some landmines deliberately designed to resemble toys. Current methods to find landmines are painfully slow (a person crawling on the ground with a probe) and/or very expensive and relatively ineffective (metal detectors that don’t respond to plastic mines, or radar scanners that cannot tell a rock from a mine). Tim has devoted himself to developing low cost, robust, smart geophysical techniques to locate landmines around the world. Tim continues to write, talk, and focus on the humanitarian crisis that landmines present, even as the topic waxes and wanes in the public eye. This is globally relevant and compelling work, and in the countries where families and individuals continue to be impacted by land mine tragedy, his work is of the utmost importance!

Tim is highly deserving of this award and I am honored to have had the opportunity to describe his contributions to society, both locally and globally.


Response by Timothy Bechtel

Thanks to the GSA Awards Committee for this truly humbling honor.

Thanks to my long-time friend and colleague Carol de Wet for nominating me for an award of which she is more deserving. Thanks to my wife, friend, business partner, and fellow geoscientist Felicia. Thanks to my parents Joan and Dan Bechtel who had us outdoors appreciating Earth from the moment we were born.

My geoscience career started on my first day of college when I met Lucian Platt whose teaching style I still mimic. Thanks to Lucian, and Bill and Weecha Crawford, and Bruce Saunders for making me a geologist.

Thanks to Don Forsyth who turned me into a geophysicist.

Thanks to Franklin & Marshall College for creating a position for me, and to Enviroscan and RETTEW for putting-up with my double life.

Thanks to all of you out there doing science of any kind. When doing outreach, I rarely present my own work; usually, it is yours.

Thank you previous winners. I have read your works as do my students. I often use videos of you or by you in my classes and presentations.

And thank you GSA for supporting and advocating for Earth Science at a time when our home planet is in crisis, with many intertwined systems heading towards conditions unfamiliar to humans. I have ceased to be a-political in my teaching and outreach. There is no time for that. Please vote like the survival of human civilization depends on it.

Black Lives Matter.

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