Assistant Professor of Geology, Victor J. Ricchezza @VicRicchezzaGeo: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Assistant Professor of Geology, Georgia State University,
Victor Ricchezza ©️2021 Bill Roa

NAME: Victor J. Ricchezza (Vic)

TITLE: Assistant Professor of Geology

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Geoscience Education Research

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 2.5 as professor, 5 as high school teacher, 9 as environmental geologist, plus 5 in graduate school


PhD Geology, University of South Florida (USF), August 2019. Dissertation: “Framing Geologic Numeracy for the Purpose of Geoscience Education: The Geoscience Quantitative Preparation Survey.” Major Professors: HL Vacher and Jeffrey G Ryan. Committee: Jeffrey R Raker, Matthew A Pasek, and Jennifer M Wenner.

MSc Geology, University of South Florida, August 2016. Thesis: “Alumni Narratives on Computational Geology: Spring 1997 – Fall 2013”. Major Professors: HL Vacher and Jeffrey G Ryan. Committee: Jeffrey R Raker .

BA Geological Sciences, University of Florida, May 1999.

TWITTER: VicRicchezzaGeo

What’s your job like?

I’ve had several jobs since I became a geologist. For the first decade or so, I did pretty standard environmental consulting for small companies in Gainesville, Florida and New York City. That job included everything from Phase I Environmental Site Assessments to Operations and Maintenance of remediation systems. From there, I became a high school science teacher in the Atlanta area. That was great – earth sciences are wildly underrepresented in science teaching and learning. I was really shocked by the degree to which most of the other teachers really felt unprepared to teach earth science. So, I fit in well there and there was a real need. But high school isn’t my level. So I went to graduate school at USF and studied Geoscience Education Research (GER). The best way I can explain GER is geoscience subject experts doing research on education in the geosciences. This is different from what is taught in the College of Education, and no disrespect to them, but we’re doing different things. What I went to grad school to learn was how to train a better geologist, and how to research just what that means in practice. My research in graduate school was about how, in general and specific ways, geologists and geology students learned quantitative literacy and use quantitative reasoning skills in their actual jobs, and comparing how we train them with what they really need. My job now is Assistant Professor of Geology at Georgia State University (GSU) Perimeter College. We’re a multi-campus two-year college that’s entirely within GSU as a college of the university. So my job is primarily one of teaching and service, and my teaching is about introductory courses. I still do some research, often as a complement to other people’s ideas. That is, they think up a study they want to do on their own work, and I help them make it a reality (or at least that’s the plan).

Dr. Victor Ricchezza at the Petrified Forest National Park. ©️2019 Anita Marshall

What’s a typical day like?

I teach a 5/4 schedule, which means one semester I’ll teach five courses and the other I’ll teach 4 (and usually another 2 in summer). That’s a pretty full schedule. This fall on Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach pretty solid from 10 am to 5:30 pm with a short break in the afternoon to eat. Tuesdays I’ve got one afternoon lab and some student hours in the morning. Thursdays and Fridays are just student hours and planning, but after that there’s much teaching time early in the week. I’m often about ready to drop by then. But then I remember what life was like teaching high school (I taught five classes five days a week) or about my field days as an environmental geologist, when I might have spent days behind a drill rig (or worse, pushing a hand auger) in extreme temperatures and weather conditions. Compared to all of that, my job is super easy, and the best bit is the students I get to spend my time with. So on an average day, I’ll get up around 6:30, get my kids on the bus for school, have coffee and a sandwich, and head into the office, getting in around 9:30 or so. As I said, what I do varies depending on the class schedule for that day/semester, including how late I stay. I rarely work nights or weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’m very strongly in the camp of “work to live, not live to work.”

What’s fun?

I have the potential to be the only person a student works with in college to get their science credits done, especially including any sort of computational work. That’s a responsibility I take seriously, but it’s also something I love doing. I’m better at teaching people how to use quantitative reasoning in real ways than I ever was at turning a hand auger (thinking about it makes my shoulder hurt). When students have that light go off over their heads, or when they announce they plan to major in geology, that right there is super fun. It doesn’t happen every day, and you can’t plan it, but when it happens, it is sweet.

What’s challenging?

Students at our school are really challenged. Many of them have jobs, kids, and family obligations. There is a pandemic raging. For many, this just isn’t the biggest priority. I’ll work with almost anyone on getting things done or being flexible, but the most frustrating thing for me is when students stop communicating, or go quiet until the last week and then suddenly want to do something amazing to pass a class. I want to help them, but there’s only so much I can do. I also love my GER research, but in practical terms, while my job supports this in theory, there just isn’t that much time for it. So many of my own personal projects just had to slide off the table. That stinks.

What’s your advice for students?

I was a terrible undergraduate student. I rarely went to class, was frequently inebriated, and was a pain in the rear to my instructors. I came in with a year’s credit and took 5 years to get the other 3 year’s worth of credits, and then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in a science. But I went to work. I got a job, and my first task was washing sample bottles. I was so convinced it was beneath me. I was so wrong, and had so much growing up to do. I’m so grateful at the patience they showed me when I most likely didn’t deserve it. My advice: show up. Do the work. Just be there. There’s so much that gets solved by being present, being professional, doing your job, communicating politely, and treating everyone with respect. I wish I had figured those things out sooner, but my path – which I do not advise anyone to take – is still a guide for students in one other way: most minor mistakes do not have to define you, especially given time and work. What you did before is what you did before. Show up now and do the work.

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