After retiring four years ago from a successful career as a petroleum geologist, Owen Hopkins wanted to spark his passion for science in those who would follow.
He called it “planting the seed of geologic knowledge.”
So the colorful and enthusiastic Hopkins pursued his idea, nurtured it and watched as it blossomed and began to bear fruit.
As president of the Corpus Christi Geological Society in 2006, Hopkins got the ball rolling with a three-pronged plan to draw public school students into his world.
- He began with the idea of “maps in schools” – putting colorful, laminated, framed U.S. Geological Society time and terrain maps of the United States at eye-level for fifth and sixth graders in the Coastal Bend area.
- He made personal presentations, speaking to kids and teachers in terms they related to, mentioning “Jurassic Park” and other popular themes.
- He got colleagues infected by his enthusiasm to help him spread the message.
This map has now been distributed to over 1,000 schools by the CCGS.
Today, thanks to Hopkins’ gift of gab and networking, some 1,100 geologic maps have been placed in schools around the country – and interest is growing internationally.
Several organizations, including AAPG, have lent financial and moral support.
Largely because of those efforts Hopkins is this year’s recipient of AAPG’s Public Service Award – but he is quick to name dozens of other individuals and organizations that have helped him plant and nurture his “seeds.”
“It’s like one of my prospects,” he said. “Instead of oil and gas reserves, the return is how many kids we can get interested.”
Getting Kids Interested
To say the idea has grown is an understatement. The project has branched, fractal-like, into other societies, organizations, cities, states and countries.
Boosters often add local or regional flavor, but the song remains the same: Put things into schools that will get kids interested in earth science.
Hopkins offered a summary of developments since the project began:
- 307 framed maps have been placed in schools around the country. (Framed maps are intended for high-traffic areas; rolled maps are given to teachers for their classrooms.)
- The Houston Geological Society purchased 200 rolled maps for area teachers.
- The “Rocks in Your Head” programs, funded in part by AAPG, distributed about 650 maps to teachers who attended seminars in eight states during 2008.
- The Tulsa Geological Society placed 33 geologic maps of North America in local schools.
- Mike Pollok, a SIPES member in Oklahoma City, bought 50 framed maps to be placed in Purcell, Okla. area schools.
- West Texas Geological Society placed 36 framed maps in Midland and Odessa schools.
- The San Joaquin Geological Society is placing geologic maps of California in five schools each year.
A Bone to Pick
As the success of his maps in schools idea spreads (societies in several Texas cities, Tulsa, California, Florida, Louisiana and Mexico have launched similar efforts), Hopkins said he is learning from experience and moving to the next phase.
Now he wants to put “bones in schools,” to acquaint students with animals that thrived in their hometowns before there were towns.
Since 1990, a gravel pit near Corpus Christi has yielded thousands of La Brean-era bones and fragments. (Think of the movie “Ice Age,” Hopkins urges students when he discusses the bones.)
The site owners donated the bones to Texas A&M University in Kingsville, stipulating they be given away only for educational purposes.
Hopkins hopes to see bones placed in trophy cases, along with maps and a poster commissioned by CCGS depicting life in the Corpus Christi area 3,230 years ago.
Hopkins keeps finding new ways to get maps and rocks into schools and to involve students.
He recently spoke to school superintendents from 11 surrounding counties, encouraging them to send teachers to a January workshop in Corpus Christi. Each school received a framed map, a mammoth bone on a stand and poster, all paid for by CCGS.
Hopkins also took his presentation to high school welding students at Craft Training Center. With the center’s cooperation, Hopkins asked each student to choose a bone and custom design and weld a stand for it.
The students take the stand, bone and posters back to their schools and have them placed in the trophy case. A plaque acknowledges the contribution of CCGS and the stand designer. The program is continuing with a goal of placing 50 such donations in schools by May.
Hopkins said two local welding companies donated materials for the stands.
Kingsville A&M biology department leaders donated 62 boxes of bones to two Corpus Christi schools, after Hopkins’ presentation sparked enough interest among students to start paleontology clubs.
“The goal is to have each student select a bone, determine its bone name, animal, and then give it to a school in a presentation with a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi geology grad students and a CCGS member,” Hopkins said.
Anyplace is a Good Place
The CCGS resolved to place some educational item in each of the city’s local libraries.
For the new Garcia Library, the society donated a 65 million-year-old fossil fish (Diplomystus) in limestone. CCGS also commissioned artist Dinah Bowman to make a 7.5 x 3 foot mural depicting a “snapshot of Nueces County 13,230 years ago,” which the posters will be copied from. Its scientific accuracy has been validated by experts at the University of Texas, Texas A&M-CC and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
A scanned enlargement 14 x 7 feet will be installed on a wall in the children’s area of McKinzie Library in spring 2009.
And why stop there? CCGS also is making coloring books of all the animals depicted in the mural.