Bolhuis teaching his three-week long summer field course in geology and biology last July. Wyoming’s Grand Tetons are in the background. Photo courtesy of Chris Bolhuis
“Geology is like seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.”
Eloquently spoken, and perhaps a bit surprising, considering the guy who said it confessed when he went to college he had no idea what he wanted to do for a career, let alone think he would choose a career in geology – and end up loving it.
The guy who said it, Chris Bolhuis, is now a 16-year veteran earth sciences teacher; and more importantly, this year’s winner of the AAPG Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award (Earth Sciences Teacher of the Year.)
Bolhuis credits his early career choice to two people: A college professor and his father.
“When I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career,” he said. “I ended up taking a geology course as a general education requirement,” and “fell in love with geology right away.
“My professor, Norm TenBrink, was instrumental in this,” Bolhuis said. “His passion, enthusiasm and gift with students was infectious.”
His father’s influence came to him through words of advice. Bolhuis remembers him saying: “When the right path presents itself, you will know. Take that path and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
That geoscience path presented itself to him, and he never looked back.
Relationships and Relevance
Bolhuis received a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in education with an earth science emphasis from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
He began teaching science at Hudsonville High School in Michigan 16 years ago – the same high school he had attended.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d even like to work with kids. All I knew was I loved geology,” Bolhuis said. “It wasn’t until I spent considerable time in the classroom that I realized the kids are awesome.
“They feed off my energy just as I feed off of theirs.”
To engage his students at the beginning of a semester, Bolhuis first works at building a relationship with them.
“It all starts with relationships,” he stressed. “Once a foundation of respect is established, the kids will respond to whatever is happening on any given day.”
As for his method of teaching, he admits that’s a little more complicated.
“We’ll do traditional labs, inquiry activities, lecture, field trips … whatever it takes,” he said, “to maintain a rigorous curriculum while doing my best to make my classroom the place where the kids want to be at that particular time.”
With issues like “fracing, climate change, oil and gas reserves, mountaintop removal, diminishing fresh water and natural disasters” in the media daily, he said, “a teacher doesn’t need to look very hard to bring relevancy into the class.
“It (geology) is always in the news,” he said, “perhaps more than any other field of science.”
Bolhuis’ creative teaching doesn’t stop in the classroom. He uses every chance to take his students outdoors to explore.
“I take every opportunity to let students observe the magnificence of geology and learn to understand the power that caused it,” he said.
But getting his students out in the field of geology comes at a price – and to minimize bussing costs, Bolhuis obtained his CDL (commercial driver’s license) so he could drive the school bus to field trip sites.
One student recalls the enthusiasm and energy Bolhuis brought to the classroom when he was his student.
“He (Bolhuis) would get fired up about every lesson he taught,” he said, and “we (students) would tease him about his unceasing love of rocks.
“His passion did not stop at the material, either,” the ex-student continued. “He was always weaving valuable life lessons into his lectures.”
Bolhuis said he is fortunate to have a career that he loves. Teaching and making an impact on each of his students is a bonus.
“I have to remind myself every day that I never know where my influence begins, nor where it ends,” Bolhuis said.
“I want to make an impact,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”