R. Heather Macdonald

2014 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner

Heather Macdonald received the 2014 Excellence in Geophysical Education Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 17 December 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education by a team, individual, or group.”


It is my pleasure to cite Dr. R. Heather Macdonald for her sustained leadership in the transformation of geoscience education during the past 2 decades. Heather’s blend of steadfast vision and selfless dedication to advance geoscience education through supporting faculty is illustrated by three programs: On the Cutting Edge, a national professional development program for geoscience faculty; the Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-Year Colleges (SAGE 2YC) project; and the Building Strong Geoscience Departments initiative. Notable characteristics imparted to each of these by Heather are that they incorporate ideas from facilitators and participants collaboratively, build through a continuous cycle of improvement to create a sustained program that evolves with participant needs, and develop a leadership cohort eager to carry the successful initiative into the future.

Heather developed the annual On the Cutting Edge Workshop for Early Career Geoscience Faculty, which focuses on teaching, research, and career management. Review comments indicate that it transforms many participants’ approach to teaching. Another measure of success is that past participants recommend it to their peers and their students and welcome the opportunity to become a facilitator. More than 600 early–career faculty from all types of academic institutions (undergraduate and graduate, 2 year and 4 year, public and private) have participated in the workshop since its inception. The impact is multiplied through its reach to additional faculty through materials on the Cutting Edge website. Heather developed a parallel workshop titled Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences for graduate students and postdocs.

More than a decade ago, Heather identified 2-year colleges, which currently enroll nearly half of undergraduate students, as institutions critical to the education of future geoscientists. Her efforts have contributed to programs to build leadership in the 2-year college geoscience education community through the SAGE 2YC project. She contributed to creating the Building Strong Geoscience Departments program that supports the sharing of best practices, lessons learned, and expertise for faculty and department chairs. The latter program is now a part of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) portfolio, with an associated website and listserv.

Heather has led development of 11 collaborative National Science Foundation grants to garner the support necessary to achieve the vision. She has served the community tirelessly through membership in significant committees for AGU, the American Geosciences Institute, and the National Research Council and as a past NAGT president. There is no one more deserving of the Excellence in Geophysical Education Award than Heather Macdonald.

—Richelle M. Allen-King, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo


I am honored to be the recipient of the 2014 AGU Excellence in Geophysical Education Award. My involvement with AGU began in 1994 with a talk at the first education session at an AGU meeting. In the following 2 decades, geoscience education has grown dramatically, and I’m proud to be part of a vibrant geoscience education community.

Collaboration has been a key element in my career. Many creative and inspiring colleagues have helped shape my work in geoscience education. I thank my colleagues at the College of William and Mary, in the geology department and across campus—from marine science to education, from biology to modern languages and linguistics and writing. You have taught me much about teaching in and beyond the classroom, working effectively with research students, and building departments and programs to be places of opportunities for students and faculty alike. I thank my geoscience education colleagues across the country, including the leaders of On the Cutting Edge and Building Strong Geoscience Departments, all of the workshop leaders and participants from those programs, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) Web team and staff, and so many more. We have helped establish a culture of information and resource sharing that supports continuous improvement in geoscience education.

Some highlights. It is a pleasure to reflect on the Early Career Geoscience Faculty workshop, its evolution through time, and its positive impact on successive generations of participants. The leaders of each workshop have contributed to the success of this series. I am particularly grateful to Richelle Allen-King, Rachel Beane, Randy Richardson, and Richard Yuretich for their innovative ideas, attention to detail, and wise counsel over many years. Another highlight has been participating in the emergence of the 2-year college geoscience community. I’ve learned much from my Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-Year Colleges (SAGE 2YC) colleagues Eric Baer, Bob Blodgett, and Jan Hodder and from Katryn Wiese and so many other 2YC colleagues. I thank David McConnell for sharing his geoscience education research expertise with me and my students. I especially thank my long-time colleagues Cathy Manduca, David Mogk, and Barb Tewksbury for their creativity, generosity, collaboration, and friendship.

As our community continues to grow, I am excited to see the new collaborations that will form and the resulting advances in geoscience education research and practice. Thanks to all of my colleagues and to the geoscience education community for their many contributions and to AGU for this honor.

Heather Macdonald, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.