Michelle Kathleen Hall

2012 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner

Michelle Kathleen Hall received the 2012 Excellence in Geophysical Education Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 5 December 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education by a team, individual, or group.”


It is a pleasure and an honor to present Michelle Hall as the 2012 recipient of the AGU Excellence in Geophysical Education Award in recognition of her service to our community in advancing geophysical education across its full spectrum. It is particularly satisfying to see Michelle receive this AGU award because in 1994 she co-organized the very first education session held at an AGU meeting.

Michelle is a geophysicist whose transition to geoscience education began with her organizing an Arizona hub of what became the Educational Seismology Network. The program aimed to put simple seismometers in classrooms, network them via regional hubs across the country, and support analysis of the data they would collect via inquiry-based curricula. This was pioneering work in what has become accepted wisdom, that effective geoscience education must entail authentic inquiry, driven by manipulation and analysis of data, thus fostering the integration of research and education.

She put together a team that produced rigorous Geographic Information System-based curricula for introductory Earth science courses at the college level that supports authentic inquiry experiences and allows everyone to learn the technology while solving an interesting geoscience problem.

Michelle led a team that developed undergraduate level in-depth case studies of a variety of natural catastrophes that include the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the potential for a great earthquake and tsunami in Cascadia, the great 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, and the potential impact of a similar event in coastal Oregon and Seattle.

She was a key contributor to initiating the IRIS Education and Outreach program and then developing its program plan. Much of her role in the early years was teaching her peers about effective ways to engage the public and K-12 educators and developing resources to support those efforts. Later, as chair of the EarthScope E&O Steering Committee, she led the development of the EarthScope Education and Outreach plan.

Michelle has been running a very successful Cafe Scientifque program for high school teens in four highly diverse towns in northern New Mexico. Teens say that they increasingly see the relevance of science; can put the science they learn in school within a more relevant context; discovered that scientists are interesting people having interesting lives in science; and have gained interest in science careers. A large cadre of scientist presenters have now been trained to share the fruits of their science with the public.

She has regularly brought her critical analysis skills to geoscience researchers seeking to develop broad-reaching education and outreach programs. These programs have fostered major collaborations that have increased the national prominence of the geosciences. She has been a mentor and role model to many students at all levels, providing them with their own critical analysis, as well as technical skills.

Through significant and sustained contributions to geophysical education throughout her career, Michelle Hall has demonstrated fully all the attributes that are sought in the Excellence in Geophysical Education Award. She is a credit to the American Geophysical Union and to the profession. 

–Michael Mayhew, Synoptic LLC, Ocean City, Maryland


I am very grateful to the AGU for this honor and for the many wonderful colleagues and students I have been blessed to work with other the years. Without them, this award would not have been possible.

We are bombarded daily with news that youth are not interested in or prepared to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the U.S. Most stories about educational success focus on an individual classroom or school, while large-scale reform and impact seems to elude our nation. We are still looking for the silver bullet—the no-fail solution—to raise our children’s desire and ability to learn.

The majority of AGU members engage with young people towards the end of their formal education and may feel that there isn’t a lot they can do to change this scenario. However, nearly half of all students who start college in a STEM major drop out of the discipline by the end of their second year. The reasons are varied; some are unprepared, others become disillusioned when their classes seem to have no relevance to what they thought was an exciting field of study, others have felt they did not “fit the mold”. This is a tremendous loss of time and talent— a missed opportunity—because each of these reasons can be easily addressed, if there is the will.

For many years, I have asked when and why people first identified themselves as a scientist. In every case, the scientists could point to key individuals who saw their potential and nurtured it, often when they did not see it themselves. This was certainly true for me. Scientists could point to an instructor who gave small and timely praise that helped them persevere in areas that were challenging, or a teacher who listened and offered probing questions to help them wrestle with and master a complex concept. Oh, the exhilarating feeling we have all had when that “ah ha!” moment occurs! It can sustain months of slogging through our daily work until the next time.

I imagine that we have all been under-prepared for the challenges we have faced in our careers, and have all struggled with our self-esteem when work feels like hard slogging with no progress, and have all wondered if we “fit the mold,” whatever that mold may be. And, while we had to reach deep inside ourselves to push onward, there was often a helping hand or encouraging word to pull us through.

With only 2–3% of the U.S. population being STEM professionals, each of us can make a huge impact by being that person who recognizes a kernel of talent in a young person and nourishes it. Mentoring others has been a priority for me and has enriched my life. I urge you to take the time to listen to your students’ stories, and to look for and nurture their talent. Help them find their own pathway to success in STEM, which may be very different than yours. One scientist…one student…two lives changed.

–Michelle Kathleen Hall, Science Education Solutions, Los Alamos, New Mexico