John “Doc Rock” Nicholas, Professor, Geology
My office is called “Rock City.” The rocks in here are organized in three major groups: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, and there’s a table with minerals. What looks like chaos is not really chaos. Students are encouraged to touch them, to learn. Because I’ve had an opportunity to have my room, I’ve decorated it for my needs. I’ve always felt very fortunate about that.
The yellow boxes of slides on my shelves come from countries I’ve visited. When I went to NYU, all of my professors would say things like, “This past summer while diving off coast of Sardinia—” They taught us that you have to see geology; you can’t simply read about it in a book. I taught about the Grand Canyon for years, but I didn’t know a thing about it until I saw it. It’s like seeing a picture of someone. You know what their features look like, but until you speak to them, you don’t really know them. Places like Hawaii and Antarctica and New Zealand—they come alive when you see them. Students will listen to you more carefully if they’re aware of the fact that you’ve been there. You can see it on their faces. I try not to brag. I always mention my wife so it’s not “When I was in . . .”
Students often ask me why they have to take geology. I was the same way when I was at NYU. I tell them about one student I had. He’d always ask, “I’m an accounting major, what do minerals and rocks have to do with accounting?” I could only give him a generic answer: to make you a better person. He wasn’t buying any of that.
Fast forward a couple of years. One day he came to my door. He had a suit and a tie on, an attaché case. He extends his hand and says, “I want to thank you.” I didn’t recognize him, so he told me, “I just came from a job interview and I got the job because I knew something about their product.” It turns out he was at AMAX, which at that time was the world’s largest mining company. When he went into the office, he saw all of the mineral specimens on the shelves and he started to name them: “This is chalcopyrite, this is galena. . .” The guy who interviewed him was so impressed. He told him, “A lot of people come in here with a 4.0 GPA but not many come in with a 4.0 GPA who can identify our products.” He got the job.