As an adjunct geology professor at the University of Maine and teaching at the Frederick Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Elizabeth A. “Betty” Wilson, Ph.D., aims to show students the connection between understanding one’s physical environment and being a responsible citizen.
“I want them to leave my class knowing geological principles so they’ll be more responsible citizens and informed voters,” says Betty. “They’ll understand about relative sea-level rise, and about the importance of marshes and how buildings and roads impact drainage systems. They’ll recognize that what you do on your property can affect someone else down the road because of fault systems or erosion. And they’ll know how to better support our traditional industries — whether the issue involves fisheries or another of our natural resources.”
Betty, who divides her time between Denver in the winter and Bremen – near Damariscotta – in the summer and fall, enjoys sharing her passion for geology with Mid-Coast students. That’s why she has given a major gift to support the Hutchinson Center’s expansion project to create a 15,000 square foot addition that will house additional classroom space, science labs and distance learning facilities critical to the center’s future as UMaine’s primary educational and outreach connection with Mid-Coast Maine.
“I love being part of something that is doing so much good,” she says. “I believe passionately in the Hutchinson Center — I have seen the impact it has on Mid-Coast Maine. It provides a tremendous service to students who wouldn’t be able to move to Orono. It’s such a dynamic institution and I am honored to be part of it. And I know it can do more and be even better!”
Betty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Delaware, began her career as an exploration geologist with Shell Oil Company. She consulted for a variety of national and international energy companies, and then established her own company, Methane Resources Group, which explores for, develops and produces petroleum in the western United States.
Since 2000 she has redirected her interests toward education. Always eager to share her knowledge of the energy business, and generate interest and understanding of the complex nature of global energy issues, she lectures to community groups and professional organizations, and teaches energy courses at Mount Holyoke College. In addition, she is a fellow at UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Center where she advises on Maine energy issues. She also serves on the advisory council for the annual Camden Conference, and helps convene the annual Energy Symposium, a community event that is part of the Conference.
One highlight of her summer is teaching at the Hutchinson Center where she particularly enjoys the diversity of the students.
“They are all different ages and come from all different backgrounds – single moms, older people who never earned degrees, teachers who want to continue their science education, as well as traditional-age students from campus.”
As an undergraduate student, Betty became hooked on geology thanks to an innovative professor who compared rock formations, hills and valleys to impressionist art. She discovered that she loved “climbing up and down rocks, walking across marshes and mud flats,” as well as the “process of observing, the attention to detail, and the creative aspect of trying to predict what the rocks look like two or three miles deep into the earth.”
Now she aims to create in her own classes that same appreciation and understanding of the physical environment.
“I like to teach in the summer because I can take my students out to see the rocks. I’ve got wonderful slides and illustrations that I show in the classroom, but when I can take them outdoors and say, look, this is a “granitic pluton” or “magma mingling,” they really get it! I have had students tell me, ‘I love my state and thank you for helping me love it even more.’”
Betty’s affiliation with UMaine came about after a couple of longtime friends heard that she would be spending part of the year in Maine. UMaine Professor Dan Belknap, who had been a doctoral student with her at the University of Delaware, suggested she become an adjunct professor. Then, Judy Stein, a fellow alumna from Mount Holyoke, recommended her to Jim Patterson, then-president of the Hutchinson Center, who was looking for a geology professor.
“The geology department at UMaine – and the entire geological community in Maine — welcomed me with open arms,” Betty says.
Although she has spent summers in Maine only since 1999, she has had relatives here since the 1700’s.
“For me, Maine truly is home. I have come full circle,” says Betty, who grew up in a small town in Connecticut and couldn’t wait to spread her wings.
“Education was my vehicle to see the world.”
With her husband, Tom, also a geologist, and their son, Ned, Betty has traveled extensively and even lived for a time in London and Cyprus. The couple still spends several months a year in Europe, now based in Luxembourg.
Grateful for the advantages she has had, Betty says her gift to the Hutchinson Center is a way for her to return the favor.
“When everyone has opportunities,” she says, “it benefits us all.”
Image Description: Hutchinson Center Adjunct Professor Betty Wilson