Earth sciences professor knows what makes for a rock-solid education.
There's no doubt about it: Earth sciences Professor Peter Eilers has gone to great depths to master his field of study. And after 21 years at Willamette, his enthusiasm for teaching is deeper than ever. "Being an educator," says Eilers, "is being excited about the topic and wanting to share it."
His students are just as eager to share their excitement with him - and sometimes their enthusiasm extends beyond the realm of earth sciences. "I had a student who'd lost a bet to one of his friends," recalls Eilers. "He had to come to class and pie me in the face. Luckily, it only got part of my face - and I was able to put part of it back in his face."
Eilers' interactions with students have been enjoyable from the moment he set foot on campus. He still likes to talk about the student who told him he was a good instructor after his first day of teaching at Willamette. "I felt welcome," recalls Eilers. "I like the atmosphere here."
Eilers says Willamette's commitment to a 10-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio has allowed him to develop relationships with students that go well beyond the surface. He's convinced that small classes are nothing less than critical to the learning process.
"You can be more spontaneous, and you can be much more personal," says Eilers, who taught at two large state universities before coming to Willamette. "I've enjoyed getting to know students. They're a great group of folks."
The appreciation he has for his students involves more than just sharing an occasional cream pie. For a long time, Eilers held a contest in which students had to guess the age of trees before core samples were taken. The winner came away with a gift certificate to a restaurant.
But it's not just the students Eilers appreciates. The faculty, the facilities and the freedoms that professors have at Willamette are constant sources of comfort for Eilers. "We're not so bound by tradition here," he says. "We're not so big that we can't still experiment and innovate."
Eilers believes that students need to view education as an opportunity to expand their minds, challenge values and get to know the world. The field of earth sciences offers numerous opportunities for students to do just that, he says.
Given his field of study, Eilers expects students to go beyond the classroom to maximize their learning experiences. And when he's exploring the wonders of nature, you won't find him limiting his activities to the classroom, either.
After all, it's a big world out there.