Steve Getty is the current director at the Quantitative Reasoning Center, and a former visiting professor in the geology department. Getty first joined the Colorado College community in 1999. He later engaged in curriculum development and educational research, and he has worked on projects for entities like NASA and the U.S. Department of Education during his time in Colorado Springs. Beyond his scientific pursuits, he enjoys hobbies like bird watching and mountain biking.
The Catalyst: Why is it important for institutions to have services like the QRC?
Steve Getty: One of the things that’s great about colleges and universities is a lot of learning occurs in classrooms, but additional learning occurs outside of the classroom. So that’s in places like labs, field trips, learning centers, and we’re working here to try to be a part of the broader learning environment. We provide a variety of types of services. Our main one is the drop-in tutoring at the QRC. We also have learning assistants who collaborate closely with faculty in courses, and those students work with the course over the block. And then we also offer one-on-one tutoring so that students can have a chance to work a little more intensively with a tutor. The other thing that we’ve been doing more and more lately is helping students and faculty with different sorts of datasets, such as either in their research or in their thesis work.
TC: What did the career path that brought you to CC look like?
SG: Well it’s very exciting to be here, but I have a shady past as a geologist; for about 20 years I studied plate tectonics and the formation of mountain chains, and I had a wonderful opportunity to get to work in mountain chains around Earth. And then I had an opportunity to come to CC in 1999, and I was a visiting professor for three years in the geology department. After that, I did something completely different: an educational research and development firm where we were looking at education systems throughout the country. We had a variety of projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Education. Then about five years ago, I received an offer to return to CC and direct the QRC.
TC: What is your favorite part about working with CC students in particular?
SG: The thing that I notice is—this might be a result of the block plan but—when you present them with a good challenge or task, they really engage in that and can get involved in figuring out whatever needs to be figured out.
TC: How have you felt since moving into the new library?
SG: Well, it’s very different. We were in a small back corner in the old library. And then last year, we were in Gill House which was very cozy and popular with the students. In the new library, it’s very different—it’s very open, it’s a bit more active and noisy—but we’re actually working with a lot more students than we have in the past, and it’s been a very dynamic place. Between our three different main services that we provide, what I was really interested to see was last year, we worked with at least 47 to 48 percent of the student body. And compared with other learning centers, that’s really huge. What that tells us is a fundamental thing about learning: centers like ours are not just for struggling students. So it’s not like when your car has something that needs fixing, and you bring it to the shop. You don’t just come to places like the QRC—or the Writing Center for that matter—if you’re in trouble or struggling, but it’s for everybody to come, work hard, and do better.
TC: Do you ever see connections between bird watching as a hobby and the sciences you practice?
SG: Yeah, I do. I’ve had a couple opportunities to join classes at CC and help with bird identification. It’s also been great on a couple opportunities to go out with [organismal biology professor] Dr. Brian Linkhart and work with Brian and his students studying owls. So I have had some some chances to make those connections.
TC: Since you became the QRC director, is there anything that you have missed about being a professor?
SG: I think one of the things that’s interesting, especially with the intensity of the Block Plan, is going from the start of the block to the end of the block, completing that process. It’s been wonderful to have opportunities to work with individual classes, but often it’s only been, you know, on a couple of days basis. I know in the past, I’ve also had some other opportunities to do active research with students, and that’s really exciting. That’s a sort of dynamic, active way to be problem solving and figuring stuff out.
TC: What is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
SG: I remember one student a number of years back at CC who was a hard worker but not your typical top student, and it was really exciting to see that student engage in a research project where we were doing some thermal modeling of an igneous structure. And boy, he just took off with that. Again, when students get engaged in these projects and really take ownership of the learning, that’s exciting and rewarding.
TC: Who is a source of inspiration for you?
SG: Oh there are so many people over the years, it’s hard to point out one in particular. I guess when I started college, I was going to be a biology major, but a birdwatcher I knew was a geologist. We started talking a little bit more, I got interested in geology, and I kind of moved over to the dark side. I’ve just loved earth sciences since then, but I also retain my interest in biology and birds.
TC: What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
SG: Well, hopefully keeping my eyes on the road and where I’m going. But my mind’s usually racing between 20 or 30 things, and then it gets interrupted by “Oh what was that raptor that went over the hill?” or “What’s that rock in that outcrop?”
TC: You’ve also held positions at Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of New Mexico in addition to here at CC— which has been your favorite school or environment to be a part of?
SG: Well they’re are all really different. My role at CC has been directing the center, and teaching, and doing some research. When I was at Harvard and Berkeley, those were primarily research appointments, and I had a wonderful privilege to work with some amazing people and study some really sticky problems. But I think one of my favorite places is probably Berkeley. It’s very unique.