With a ‘caring spirit,’ Mary-Louise Timmermans inspires scientific inquiry about the Earth
In addition to her “passion for science and research,” students praised geologist Mary-Louise Timmermans for her “caring spirit” and enthusiastic classroom presence. In courses where they learn about the Earth, ocean, and atmosphere, Timmermans — the winner of the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics — celebrates their diverse talents and backgrounds, and she encourages her students to appreciate that diversity in their classmates. One of her favorite teaching moments was when one classroom of students was resourceful enough to make a seemingly impossible science experiment move forward, and she says her students give her “hope” for the future.
Courses: “Earth Resources, Energy, and the Environment” and “Geophysical Fluid Dynamics”
What excites you about teaching Yale undergraduates?
The thing that excites me most about teaching Yale undergraduates is the opportunity to work with some of the brightest young minds at the very early stages of their career, just when they are kicking off. They are enthusiastic and engaged, have very broad interests, and are well-rounded and open-minded. What’s more, to top it all off, they are the warmest, friendliest group of young people you could ever hope to meet.
What do your students teach you?
My students give me hope for the future. In the coming decades, humanity is going to be facing a whole host of issues, and it’s really reassuring to know that these thoughtful, genuinely altruistic people are going to be the future leaders and making a difference.
What advice would you give a Yale undergraduate about his or her time here?
My advice to Yale undergraduates would be to continue to appreciate their fellow classmates in their diversity of backgrounds, interests, and talents.
In addition to that, I would advise them to engage with the faculty — to come and sit down with us in our offices and talk to us about their future plans and ideas and their coursework. There are a lot of opportunities here, and by getting to know the faculty, they can learn about the various opportunities that come up.
If there is one thing you’d like your students to learn from you, what would that be?
I would like for my students to gain an appreciation for the earth sciences and to gain an understanding for how mathematics can be used to study and understand the Earth and the ocean and atmosphere. Also, hopefully, they will one day use their strong analytical skills in a career that will benefit society.
Tell us about one of your most memorable classroom experiences.
My most memorable classroom experiences probably involve laboratory experiments, because who doesn’t love laboratory experiments?
A couple of winters ago I had planned to do an experiment or a demonstration in the class that needed ice. I went to the freezer and there was no ice. I told the students that we were going to have to postpone the experiment until next week. They looked at me like I was crazy, and they rallied up a geology hammer and a bucket and went straight downstairs to the front of Kline Geology Lab and bashed off a bunch of ice that was running down the side of the building and then came back up. We did the experiment, and it worked well. There was a girl in the class who was contemplating going to Stanford for graduate school, and we told her, “Well, you couldn’t do this at Stanford!” That was fun.