Joshua Villalobos

Joshua Villalobos
El Paso Community College

2016 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching

Presented to Joshua Villalobos

Citation by Callan Bentley

I met Joshua a few years ago in El Paso, after a workshop when he volunteered to lead a local field trip. He was born and raised in El Paso, and continues to work in that community today, stitching together the relationships between his community college, the University of Texas at El Paso, and the wider community. These institutions are not just where Josh works; they are where he lives. His “immersion” is complete and total and authentic.

As an instructor, Josh is responsible for teaching five classes per semester. Over the ten years since he began teaching at El Paso Community College, he has been responsible for changing the lives of more than 2,000 students. Some of these multitudes go on to major in geology. Others don’t. One of the things that strikes me as profound about Joshua’s approach is he’s simultaneously interested in helping instill scientific literacy into his fellow El Pasoans as a citizenry AND in producing the next generation of skilled, confident leaders of geoscience. At the latter, he’s been incredibly, enviably, admirably successful. In a decade, he’s taken EPCC from a single geology major to more than 70 per year! How many other professors have facilitated a seventy-fold increase in the number of geoscientists entering the workforce? It’s an astonishing statistic, a signal of Joshua’s legacy.

As an American of Mexican ancestry, Josh is an emblem of the growing diversity in our discipline. Neither he nor I are satisfied with the slow pace of improved inclusion in geology, and it irks us both deeply that geology is the least diverse of all the major sciences. It was because we were motivated by this persistent issue that Josh and I to collaborate on the Border to Beltway program. This NSF-funded initiative had two phases, each involving a dozen of my students and a dozen of his. The diverse crew of students spent a week doing field geology in west Texas and then another week in the mid-Atlantic. The students collaborated, bonded, and some of them were catalyzed into embracing geoscience as a career. Time will tell. Six have made the transfer to four-year colleges. Three others are paid interns with the USGS. Two are in graduate programs.

It is through the Border to Beltway experience that I got to know Josh well, but it’s just one of dozens of projects he has going. His SOLARIS project was a successful multiyear endeavor to give his students opportunities to do geoscience research at the community college level, then facilitate their transfer to UTEP. Other efforts focus on classroom instrumentation, field work experience for his students, outreach programs for inner city children, new tech and social media, a geologic teaching garden on his campus, and an REU program in collaboration with UTEP. He was one of the initial cadre of InTeGrate module authors. He serves on an advisory board for a local park, too. The fact that has just been promoted to Geological Science Dean at EPCC is evidence that his college values his leadership as much as the rest of us do.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Joshua is also a husband and a father to two children. While parental duties aren’t on the list of key attributes that are expected for a Biggs recipient, I can tell you from my own experience of the past four years that parenthood makes work a lot harder to do, and any working parent who achieves excellence on both fronts deserves extra praise.

It is my delight today to celebrate Joshua as the very deserving recipient of the Biggs Award.

top2016 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching — Response by Joshua Villalobos

So I thought long and hard about how I should use my 15 minutes, or ~500 words, of fame today. Should I speak to the incredible role models and colleagues I have, such as Callan Bentley and other prior Biggs awardees, who have given me the meters stick to live up to in my career and endeavors? Should I speak about my loving wife Sylvania, and my adorable children Tobias and Emma, who put up with my love for science, the outdoors, and the countless rocks that I have scattered all around the house? Or should I speak to the incredible and awe inspiring students I have had the pleasure to teach, mentor, and see grow into budding geoscientist and educated members of my community? Well; I decided to spend my precious time speaking about all of these through the common thread that binds them all together. This common thread comes in many shades and maintains all of its strength when binding the people and ideas it helps to unite, is: Passion.

All of us here in this room, in these halls, and across our field have this common thread that binds us to one another and permits us to achieve our dreams. Our passion is the force that fuels our desires to be outdoors and see the forest for the trees; to travelling along those less beaten trails and be inspired by not only the geological forces that give rise to the grand vistas before us but by the equally impressive forces that gave us the gravel below our feet; and for our insatiable appetite for wanting to understanding everything there is to know about this small blue speck in the ever growing universe it resides in.

For all the figurative and literal effects passion can, and has, invoked throughout our history it is not a trait that we are born or graced with. Passion always starts out vulnerable and fragile; a child with a rock collection or an adult with a love of being outdoors. When allowed to grow, passion is slowly strengthened by the nurture of someone with a strong and well rooted similar passion; Such as all of us educators who are here today. This early passion is often a challenge to keep alive in a world filled with distractions. It requires constant nurturing and attention in order for it to grow in the right directions and for it to continue to develop eventually on its own accord.

As educators we are fortunate to be in a position to not only to strengthen, nurture, and display our own passions on a daily basis but to help build it in our students. My greatest satisfaction I get in my job is building and nurturing this passion in my students and getting student comments like: “I regret taking this class; cause I all do now is look at rocks when I’m outside!!”, or having long forgotten students come to my office with wide eyes and excitement on receiving their degree in geology or being the first in their family to graduate from college. So with my brief time I have left in the spot light I want to emphasize the privilege that we all share in imparting our passion to other and the importance of teaching them to pass it on and continue the path of this binding thread in the geosciences into the future.