Q&A with Deron Carter

In 2006, Deron Carter became the first full-time instructor to work in LBCC’s Geoscience program, after working part-time for a year before that. As a teacher, Carter takes great pride in his students and their accomplishments, and is always eager to help them with problems and see them succeed at their careers. 

For the last couple years he and OSU colleague Sean De Silva have organized a program called GeoBridge to help make each LB transfer student’s transition to OSU easier. The program is also meant to help these students form connections with colleagues and experts in whichever field they eventually enter into. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carter has been one of countless instructors working to adapt his classes in a way that best suits students, and that includes his work on the GeoBridge program.

What made you decide on a career in physical science?

I actually started in college. I was an English major, and I was interested in Journalism. My advisor recommended I take a geology class to fulfill my science Gen Ed requirement. And I said, “What the heck is a geology class,” and I took it. She said, “We have a great department, I think you’ll like it.” It just really spoke to me, growing up I did a lot of hiking and cross-country skiing and it kind of spoke to how the landscapes formed that I’d always been recreating and playing in. 

I took some time off between my undergrad and graduate school doing a lot of environmental education and kind of informal science teaching, and I decided I wanted to go back and get a master’s degree. In the process, I really enjoyed doing research, but I got an opportunity to be a teaching assistant for some labs, and I just really enjoyed that. Sort of chose that path of teaching over the path of research.

I think that’s a phenomenal thing about taking a variety of classes in college, like with the Gen Ed classes, you really get to explore places that you haven’t in the past, like maybe in high school.

For my undergraduate, I went to Whitman College, which is in Walla Walla, Washington. And then for graduate school, I went to Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

Which part of the physical science discipline do you like best?

Well, you know, the geosciences are really broad. They incorporate geology, Earth science, and oceanography. I’ve really enjoyed teaching all three of those classes So I do love geology, that’s kind of my background and where I got started.I really enjoy teaching oceanography because it’s really such an interdisciplinary course. It’s not really a science in itself, but you’re applying the other physical sciences, you’re applying physics, chemistry, geology, and even 0biology to understand the oceans. 

What is the difference between geology and Earth sciences?

That’s a great question, and if you asked 10 different geologists you’d probably get 10 different answers. Geology, we often think more of looking at what we call just the Earth itself. The solid Earth. So the rocks and minerals, the processes like plate tectonics that are fueled by internal and surface processes, and kind of a history on the planet. Earth Sciences might also include geology, but also look at the oceans, look at the atmosphere, and even look at Earth’s place in the solar system, or in the universe.

I heard that you’ve recently received a faculty award. What was it in recognition of?

Yeah, that is the Pastega outstanding faculty award, and that’s an award given out every year to one faculty member at LBCC. You get nominated by your colleagues. And so it’s just that it was really a surprise and an honor to receive that award this year.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement?

Professionally, I think it’s not one single moment. But I was the first full-time faculty hired with a background in geosciences at LBCC. I’m wrapping up my 14th year teaching full-time, and I taught part-time for a year before that. I was also teaching at Western Oregon University in Monmouth before teaching at LB. And it’s just been awesome to see how the geoscience program has grown since I started. 

It was really just an Earth science class when I started, and it’s really grown to where now, we teach a variety of classes in the department, six or seven different classes, and we have a geology major and environmental science major now. The environmental science major alone has, I think, well over 100 students that have chosen it as a major. So it’s just great to see that. To see that program expand and be able to serve students that are really interested in pursuing careers dealing with sustainability and how we manage the resources and the human impact on the Earth. 

Personally, I mean, there’s lots of different ways I could go on. You know, since I’ve been teaching at LB I’ve become a father, and I have two kids, and you know that obviously has to be my biggest accomplishment. And as Rob (Priewe) might attest, I’ve also gotten into running a lot, running ultra marathons, and so Rob last year supported me in completing a 100-mile ultramarathon in Idaho. And you know, when I complete one of those that, of course, is a big moment, too. 

What do you like best about being a teacher?

I like interacting with students, and I really like helping students succeed. I think community college is one of the few places in our society where there’s an opportunity for social mobility. You know, that could mean moving from a lower socio-economic class to a higher one. And I think, especially working at a place like LBCC, it’s really great to me having a career that can have a mission to it. To help students succeed, help people achieve what they want, reach their goals, meet their dreams, and just being part of that is really important to me. I also really appreciate the role that community colleges play in social justice, and those kinds of issues. I just feel so grateful and thankful for having a career where I can be part of that aspect of people’s lives as well as be an educator in terms of helping people learn about the Earth and learn about the importance of science in society and the scientific process, meaning, using evidence to make decisions.

Is there anyone that you’d say has been a large source of inspiration for you?

Well, of course I have to recognize my wife, Erin Chamberlain. She teaches biology at LBCC. Obviously a great friend and a wonderful colleague too. And you know, I certainly find inspiration from her. And I can’t really name one student, but just students in general. Every day I find inspiration from students overcoming barriers and just giving me hope for the future. 

What are your thoughts on the quarantine we’re all experiencing?

Well, I’m happy that our leadership at the state level is using data, and using science and evidence to make informed decisions. Where we’re at, you know, it’s made a big change in my life and everyone’s life. It’s challenging to teach courses online. I think it also exposes inequities in education in general. You know, not all students have equal access to internet, and technology. And so that’s a challenge, just like anything. I’m working with it, I’m doing the best I can and trying to offer the best experiences I can in my classes, given the situation. 

How have your classes adjusted to it? And how are labs working now that students do not have easy access to lab materials?

One challenge is just the short time that we had available to make the transition to online classes. I’m teaching all my classes asynchronously; I have a couple kind-of office hours/study sessions that I do over Zoom, but I’m recording all my lectures, because I know everybody’s life is different now that we’re stuck at home. I felt like that was an important way I could help students that maybe have kids at home or a new job, or just lost a job. Or having to be a caregiver. 

As far as the labs go, yeah, that’s been a big challenge. I’ve adjusted some labs where students are using different programs, like Google Earth, to collect data, and make observations. Some of the more hands-on labs, I’ve actually done with my kids at home, videoed them, and then posted those. So, I’ve collected the data and then given it to the students. And then they have to kind of make sense of it. 

If this has to continue on, I’m hopeful to have the summer to come up with more of a lab kit that students could get mailed to them, and have rock and mineral samples or fossil samples, to make it a little more hands-on. 

I’ve done some reading on the GeoBridge project that you’re involved with. Where did this project originate, and what made you decide to take part in it?

So, it originated with the previous work I’d done with a colleague in OSU’s geosciences department, Sean De Silva. We’d collaborated on an earlier project that was called “Increasing Diversity in the Earth Sciences,” and this GeoBridge project is kind of an offshoot of that original project. So we had a pre-existing relationship and we saw a kind of call for proposals from the National Science Foundation, which was really interested in looking at new innovative and extracurricular ways that we could get students into the geosciences pipeline, meaning have it become their majors, and to train in the workforce. And also to help increase diversity in the Earth Sciences, because the Earth Sciences and geosciences are the least diverse out of all physical science disciplines. Community colleges just by their nature are generally more diverse than universities, and so we decided that we had an interesting idea, and made a pitch to the National Science Foundation, and we were fortunate enough to receive an award. We’re in the final year of the program right now, and we’ve been able to support about 13 LBCC students who have gone on to major in geology or some related discipline. The idea behind the program is it’s building a cohort of students in the summer before they start at OSU. This cohort would ideally support each other, socially and academically, in the transfer process. 

A lot of the work students would be doing on the project seems very hands-on. Have you made any changes based on the quarantine, or will you just be delaying the field trips until it gets lifted?

We’ve been meeting over Zoom, and luckily we’d already collected a lot of data before the quarantine. So we’ve been just analyzing that data, and then we’re hoping that all of the research takes place at OSU and that things will open up enough that research can start up again this summer. Luckily the students work in pretty small groups and they’re paired with a mentor at OSU that’s in a lab. 

This summer, we have a couple different projects. One student is going to be working in the ice core lab at OSU. These ice cores are collected from around the world to help us understand past climate change. Then there’s another student, this summer she’s going to be working on collecting samples out by Bend and studying ancient volcanic eruptions. There was a big eruption there, so studying that, and what the likelihood of that kind of eruption could be in the Cascades in the future. 

Do you have any stories you’d like to share about your time working at LBCC?

Nothing specific really comes to mind off the top of my head, but what I can say in general is, teaching at LBCC is really my dream job, supporting students, having a job that has a mission around social justice and blending that with my passion for science and the Earth and helping students realize their potential and their science identity. Another thing is, I’ve been really fortunate getting to work with great colleagues, and just the friendships I’ve been able to develop, that aren’t just in the sciences but across campus, and finding colleagues that have a similar drive to the mission of the college. 

But I do have one other story that I can remember. I do remember, right when Greg Hamann was hired. I met him, he knew I was a geologist, and was about to go climb Mount Adams and asked me about if I thought the avalanche danger there was going to be severe. I said, “No, it’s probably fine.” Then I went home and looked up the avalanche forecast, and it was really, um, not good. (Nervous laugh.) And so I emailed Greg and said, “Actually, you should take a look at this.” So for a few hours there, I was like, “Oh no, I just recommended that the president, our new president, go climb a mountain in an unsafe condition.” Greg and I still joke about that every once in a while.