Not many people can identify the exact moment that they found their passion; Professor David Hawkins, chair of the geosciences department at Wellesley, is one of the few who can. On a field trip for his biology class his junior year of college, Hawkins’s professor mentioned that the beach was 380 million years old. Hawkins was equally astonished and intrigued and knew from that point on that he wanted to study geology.
Hawkins appreciates the breadth of research and number of opportunities that the department, which includes four full-time faculty members and two half-time laboratory instructors, can give while still maintaining intimacy due to its small size.
“The personalized approach continues on research projects in which faculty and students collaboratively design and implement original research projects while explicitly learning how to be a research scientist. Over the last twenty years, about half of our majors tend to pursue and complete graduate degrees in the geosciences,” Hawkins noted.
Professor Hawkins’ interest in teaching, individualized attention, and research began at Clark University as an undergraduate biology major, where he was a first generation student.
“I discovered the joys of teaching and research as an undergraduate biology major. I was a lab assistant involved in a study of disease-carrying mosquitos, and I served as a teaching assistant for a biology course in histology [the microscopic study of tissue samples]. Both of these experiences sparked my interest in pursuing a path in academia.” Hawkins said.
Hawkins continued his studies at George Washington University for his master’s and earned his doctorate from MIT. He came to Wellesley in 2008 after serving as a visiting professor at both Franklin & Marshall College and Colorado College and as a tenured professor and department chair at Denison University.
While Hawkins focuses on undergraduate education, he is also committed to his research.
“I have two active research projects both of which address my broad interest in the processes that shaped the evolution and architecture of continents. The first project focuses on the physical and chemical processes that operate in magma bodies beneath volcanoes and the timescale over which those processes operate. The second project is designed to expand the tools geologists use to reconstruct the paleogeography of ancient continents, such as the supercontinent Pangea,” Hawkins explained.
Hawkins is also excited about the direction of geosciences as a whole. “In the 1960s, the development of plate tectonics led to a paradigm shift in the geosciences. In the next 20 years, I believe a similar intellectual revolution will emerge regarding the Earth system as a whole. This new ‘Theory of the Earth’ will transform how we view the long term habitability of our planet.”
In the future, Hawkins hopes to continue research when he becomes a retired professor, travel the world, write a book, and lead trips to geologically, culturally and historically interesting locales for those who are curious about the world around us. At the moment though, Hawkins is excited about the growth and depth of the geosciences department at Wellesley.
“As chair of the geosciences department, I am most excited by the wide range of rich class-related, research-related, employment-related learning opportunities the department offers to our students, and by the enthusiastic pursuit of those opportunities by our students,” Hawkins concluded.