Great Teachers

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated with rocks, minerals and caves. When I was older I took courses in geology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and had the good fortune of studying under one of the best teachers I have ever had. Professor Rodolfo was trained as a sedimentologist and in the early 1980’s morphed into a hazard-mitigation scientist, starting with volcanoes. He is now Professor Emeritus, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and an Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines. Besides teaching geology at UIC, Professor Rodolfo did many years of work for the USGS.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated with rocks, minerals and caves. When I was older I took courses in geology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and had the good fortune of studying under one of the best teachers I have ever had. Professor Rodolfo was trained as a sedimentologist and in the early 1980’s morphed into a hazard-mitigation scientist, starting with volcanoes. He is now Professor Emeritus, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and an Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines. Besides teaching geology at UIC, Professor Rodolfo did many years of work for the USGS.

Great teachers are extremely rare. But if you’ve been lucky, you might have had one or two teachers in your life that inspired you and possibly even influenced the course of your life. Professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo was one such teacher (pictured below).

Kelvin S. Rodolfo, Professor Emeritus – University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)


Maybe my professor rubbed off on me more than I realized.


In a word, Professor Rodolfo was the toughest professor in, what was back then referred to as, the Geology Department. To give you an idea of his character, the first day of class he announced to us all, in no uncertain terms, that if we did not ask an intelligent question, either in class or in writing, then we would not pass his course. And, believe me when I say that he meant it. I was fortunate enough to ask an “intelligent” question the first few days. But, that was the easy part of the class.

The first time he sent us into the field, we were given a list of questions about things that we had not yet covered in our readings or in class. We at the time believed that our grades depended upon how we filled out this questionnaire. When we were brought to an ancient glacial valley and confronted with huge boulders in an incongruous landscape and asked to explain exactly how they got there, of course my classmates and I were absolutely clueless. And, of course we all panicked and thought we were going to fail the class. Professor Rodolfo, being the wise teacher that he was, knew this and counted on it. Just like he knew that when we were finally told the answers to his questions in class, we would never, ever forget them. And, we didn’t! Needless to say the questionnaire didn’t count towards our grade. But, he wanted us to pay attention to what we were looking at in the field and more importantly think about it. And he knew that this was the only way that he could make an indelible impression on our young restless minds.

Another technique he employed was by making us get our hands dirty, and not just our hands, but our legs, our arms, our faces and torsos. Let me put it to you this way; when you’re slipping and sliding on the muddy banks of a V-shaped valley cut out by a river, you never forget that rivers always cut down into the landscape in a V-shape! Professor Rodolfo didn’t just want us to do geology, he wanted us to “live” geology. He wanted us to “feel” a river, or a U-shaped glacial valley and the glacial erratics that were in it.

And then there were the labs. We did everything from ascertaining the epicenters of earthquakes using the traveling time difference between S and P waves from three separate seismic stations surrounding the earthquake to analyzing the phaneritic or aphanitic or porphyritic crystalline structure of mafic, intermediate and felsic intrusive (plutonic) and extrusive (volcanic) igneous rocks, while learning about Bowen’s Reaction Series at the same time. And in learning about Bowen’s Reaction Series we learned how it was possible that so many different kinds of minerals in so many different kinds of rocks could all arise essentially from the same magma.

Kelvin S. Rodolfo was one of the toughest professors that I ever had. And, his course was one of the toughest courses that I have ever taken, and I loved every minute of it! My memories of Professor Rodolfo are very fond ones. And, I’m not just saying that because he gave me an A for the course.

Copyright © 2010 Eric F. Diaz



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