October 2, 2023

Full Circle

Geology students stand knee-deep in the water, calling out measurements as waves pass by. On shore, their classmates scribble numbers into notepads as the humid breeze blows the choppy waters of the Potomac River onto the sandy beach beneath their feet.

UMW alumna Pamela Grothe used to be one of those students, but today she’s snapping pictures and working with the group in a different role.

Geology students on the Potomac River. Geology students on the Potomac River. Geology students on the Potomac River. geology022 Geology students on the Potomac River. Geology students on the Potomac River.

A 2006 graduate, Grothe returned to UMW this past August to fill the position of her previous professor and long-time mentor Neil Tibert, who died unexpectedly last year. Having come full circle from geology student to professor, it’s now her turn to instill a love of the subject into students that Tibert once gave her.

“I feel privileged that I can stand here in his footsteps,” said Grothe, who did research in the Dominican Republic with Tibert as an undergraduate. “I can only hope to teach as well as he did and inspire students as they continue along in their academic and professional careers as he did for me.”

After graduation, Grothe stayed in touch with Tibert, getting advice on graduate school and her doctorate program, which she is currently finishing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her next career goal: to find a college-level teaching position with a tight-knit geology department just like the one at UMW.

“I always knew I wanted to teach in some capacity,” said Grothe, who came to UMW as an education major before switching to geology. Then last spring, in the wake of Tibert’s death, she got a bittersweet offer to return to UMW as a visiting professor.

A class full of mostly geology majors, you can sense the enthusiasm of the students as they sketch the sand dunes and measure the distance between ripples in the water. The field trip, one of several for the course, will help the class understand modern environments by comparing and contrasting the Rappahannock River and the Potomac River.

“I feel like a detective,” said junior and geology major Andrew Bolton, describing the study of rocks. “It’s like a picture and you can look at it and find out what the world was like so long ago.”

Crouched down in the water, surrounded by students, Grothe seems right at home. As an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for teaching – and for her alma mater – it’s clear she has found her calling.

“I came to UMW as an undergraduate looking for close relationships with my professors,” said Grothe, smiling. “And now the best part of this job is getting to work so closely with the students.”