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ImageStudents Follow Him Anywhere
Terry Swanson
Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth and Space Sciences
Geology has been Terry Swanson’s passion since grade school. “I was brought up in Canadian schools. A large component was geography, which includes landform analysis. I had excellent teachers [and] I was intrigued by landscapes and maps,” he says.

It was only natural, then, that the Canadian would find his way to the UW in 1988, where he sought the best program in his field to work as a teaching and research assistant, and the best mentor—Steve Porter, now an emeritus professor who specializes in glacial and quaternary geology.

Following in the footsteps of his own excellent teachers, Swanson draws hundreds of students, majors and non-majors alike, each year to his full roster of classes—fall, winter and spring quarters saw the notoriously busy Swanson teaching up to four classes at a time.

Field trips and interactive classes are hallmarks of these courses. The trips are an integral part of a geology education, Swanson points out, since it is a field science. But the excursions also make it possible for him get to know his students, particularly in lecture classes where 400–600 is an average load.

Inside the classroom, Swanson roams as he speaks, frequently calling on students who, if they answer a question correctly, will earn the class a bonus point. “Students have attention spans of about 15 minutes—not just this generation, mine was that way as well,” he says, so activities like this help keep them engaged. He also asks students to give two- to three-minute lectures to the class on a topic within a theme already being discussed.

Recently, Swanson has introduced debate to the mix of learning aids, where students have the opportunity to discuss current events as they apply to geology, such as Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling.

“The most memorable moments of taking classes from Terry are his field trips,” says student Patricia Terhune-Inverso. “These adventures range from being stuck in the snow on a glacial moraine in eastern Washington to wandering through the woods on Whidbey Island to find an elusive glacial erratic. With his enthusiasm, students follow him anywhere, even to a wet, muddy, smelly marsh wearing only street shoes in order to dig up a tsunami deposit.”

And like layers of rock, Swanson’s influence spans generations—one of the most touching letters the teacher received was from a former student who told him that she has wanted her son to take his class while he was at the UW. Swanson enthuses, “They’re like my own children.”—Niki Stojnic