This piece is part of Meet Minerva, a series of interviews introducing the Minerva community to the humans behind the school’s policies and classes. This interview transcription has been edited for length and clarity.
Hung Quach Nguyen: Why did you decide to work for Minerva?
Allison Gale: Before Minerva, I was working at University of Wisconsin River Fall, and my Ph.D. advisor sent me a message that said, “How would you like teaching really quality students and earn the same salary and work at home?” I thought it was a spam email but then I realized it was real.
One reason I decided to work here was that I was super interested in teaching international students because I think many problems are global in scope. So the ability to teach and work with students from all over the world excited me.
Second, to be honest, I think I am a pretty good lecturer. I like lecturing, I lecture a lot, I was dynamic and nerdy. But I knew in the back of my mind that lecturing wasn’t the best way for students to learn and that there’s a difference between teaching and learning. Because I’m passionate about education, I’d better work in a place that is trying to align their education style with how students learn best. And, I’m not gonna lie. I love being able to not drive thirty minutes to and from my job.
I think I am a pretty good lecturer. I like lecturing. But I knew in the back of my mind that lecturing wasn’t the best way for students to learn and that there’s a difference between teaching and learning.
HN: What’s your favorite memory from working at Minerva?
AG: I have many small favorite memories. Some of them are from class when something funny happened or a student said something I hadn’t thought about or I suddenly grabbed a rock from my desk. But I have two big memories. I got scared when I got my job at Minerva because I’m a rock scientist, so I was used to laboratory work and I have been teaching tons of labs. I worried that I would miss having students with rocks and minerals. But Dean Chandler was very amenable to me and Minerva purchased rock kits. And then I had amazing help from Jesse and even Ben Nelson who flew the rocks from San Francisco to Hyderabad. I have the same kit in Minnesota. And my students and I showed each other the rocks on the screen.
My second favorite moment was in August 2016 when all faculty and students were in San Francisco. There was a big feast. I don’t think we have it anymore because we’ve just gotten so big.
HN: What are you most proud of?
AG: Relating to Minerva, I think I’m most proud of my commitment to help students learn. Often, when you go to a high-power graduate school and you do high-level research on rocks, there’s an expectation that you keep going toward research. Why would you bother teaching when you could do this research? Teaching is kind of an after-thought because Ph.D. scientists are trained to be scientists, we are not trained to be teachers. But for me, teaching is one way to help people, so it is the most exciting and gratifying job to me. I’m not going to get many published papers, I’m not going to have people citing my Nature articles 1,700 times, but it’s the small moments that makes me feel I matter and I’m having some positive impact on students. I’m excited to think that 20 years from now, they will say, “Oh yeah, weird Professor Gale talked about volcanoes, sulfur deposits, etc., and now I’m here looking at sulfur.”
I’m not going to get many published papers, I’m not going to have people citing my Nature articles 1,700 times, but it’s the small moments that makes me feel I matter and I’m having some positive impact on students.
HN: What do you do outside of Minerva?
AG: When I am not working, I love hiking and being in nature. I’m happy when I’m outside. There is a hiking club in state. If I get a certain number of hikes, I will get a prize. I also collect rocks. Minnesota is called the glacial tail, which means the glacier takes up rocks from anywhere and drops them here. So Minnesota is a rock grab bag. I collect rocks in the fields for hours. I play with my rocks. I have over a thousand specimens of minerals alone.
HN: What would most students be surprised to learn about you?
AG: Most students got surprised when I suddenly grasped a rock for their request. For example, if they asked for zircon. I think the embodiment of my passion for Earth science, not just reading the lesson plan. They might also be surprised by my humor. Humor keeps me entertained and engaged. If I am enjoying class, other people will too. So I take being fun really seriously. One more thing is that I was a pretty talented percussionist. I was in an orchestra in University of Maryland. I was able to have class with professional musicians and get lessons for free.
HN: What else would you want the Minerva community to know?AG: I am very grateful for the humans in Minerva. The students for the most parts are kind, respectful, and interested. My colleagues are supportive and awesome.