John”Jack”Renton, professor of geology at West Virginia University, was recently named an Eberly Family Professor for Distinguished Teaching, joining only four others at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences with this distinction.
Dean M. Duane Nellis appointed Renton to the position after receiving a recommendation from a panel of distinguished WVU professors.
“Jacks enthusiasm for his discipline is truly extraordinary, and his ability to communicate that enthusiasm is perhaps unmatched at WVU ,”Nellis said.
This new appointment is the latest among several awards and honors that Renton has received in recognition of his 36 years in the classroom.
In January 2001 the Eberly College presented Renton with its Outstanding Teaching Award. He also received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the WVU Foundation Inc. later that year. Last November, Renton was among only 46 college and university faculty members nationwide chosen as a”Professor of the Year”by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
In the classroom, Renton says he shares”the wonders of geology on this spaceship earth”with close to a thousand undergraduate studentsmostly freshmeneach year. He also reaches K-12 science teachers around the state who tune in to the telecourse he co-teaches with several colleagues or turn up for their field-based courses to destinations like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park.
After finding out early in his career that lecturing from notes wasnt effective with students, Renton says he began carrying on a conversation with them. He approaches his classes as an actor does a one-act play. He prepares a good script, rehearses it for hours, then destroys the script to avoid reusing the same presentation.
“Jack has developed marvelous ways of presenting complex issues: Landslides thus become amazingly clear when students realize the �€~goforce exceeds the �€~stayforce, or that the complexity of plate tectonics folding and faulting is simplified by the strength of the material between stress applied and strain response,”says colleague Bob Behling, professor of geology, with whom he team teaches.
Colleagues estimating that he has taught some 30,000 students in the introductory course over the years. As he looks back over his long career, Renton says he cant imagine another profession that could be more rewarding.
“I love the student who comes up to me in some distant airport and says that he or she had been in my class years ago and that it was one of the best classes they had ever taken. What could be more satisfying?”
Renton has a new physical geology textbook, Planet Earth, coming out this fall that will be used by colleagues across the country. It features a color photo of Blackwater Falls on the cover to promote the geology of the state.
He received an M.S. and a Ph.D. in geology from WVU , and following a brief stint in military service, began teaching geochemistry at WVU in 1965.
The Eberly Family Professorships are funded by an endowment established by the Eberly Family Charitable Trust and The Eberly Foundation. In addition to the professorships for outstanding teaching, the endowment currently funds nine other named professorships, including one for outstanding public service and eight for overall excellence in various disciplines, including American literature, applied mathematics, biology, geography, history, physics, political science and psychology.
Renton joins four other faculty members named Eberly Family Professors for Distinguished Teaching: Patricia Rice, associate professor of anthropology; Robert DiClerico, professor of political science; and Carl Rotter, professor of physicsall appointed in 1996; and Keith Garbutt, associate professor of biology and director of the WVU Honors Program, who received the appointment in 2000. Rotters retirement in May, after 36 years on the faculty, opened the position for Renton.