George Davis wrote the book on structural geology. Really. His Structural Geology of Rocks and Regions, now in its third edition, has been a standard undergraduate text in the field for almost 30 years. And while “a lot of faculty would scoff at writing textbooks,” Davis says, “I think of it as extending my reach as a teacher. I love to write, love to illustrate, and the opportunity for creativity [with a textbook] is really broad.”
What Davis loves above all is being a geologist. It’s a passion he knew he wanted to pursue from the day he arrived at Wooster as a first-year student; a passion that still burns brightly and sends him scrambling up mountainsides and across ridges.
Davis’s primary research focus is field-oriented structural geology, with applications in regional tectonics and active tectonics. He is fascinated with the ways in which rocks and the earth’s crust become deformed as tectonic plates collide and scrape past or dive beneath one another. “When you look at rocks at that scale, in terms of broad regions like the Andes,” he says, “they deform almost like butter.”
When Davis arrived at the University of Arizona as a newly minted assistant professor in 1970, he was surprised to learn that little geological analysis had been done on the surrounding mountain ranges, because there was no copper in them, hence no financial incentive. What he found was “a treasure trove, part of a whole chain of mountains with common properties that stretches from northern Mexico to southern Canada,” mountains formed not through shortening and compressing of of the earth’s crust, but by stretching. He dove into unlocking its secrets.
In addition to his research, teaching, and writing, Davis has served in a number of academic leadership positions at Arizona, including seven years as provost. While he stepped down from that post in 2007 and transitioned to emeritus faculty status in 2008, his pace has not slackened noticeably. He still teaches everything from first-year honors seminars to graduate courses to a general education class on geological disasters in society. He is president-elect of the Geological Society of America and part of an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, geologists, and classicists studying the Mt. Lykaion Sanctuary site in the Peloponnesus in Greece. In 2010, he won the GSA’s Career Contribution Award in Structural Geology and Tectonics, and earlier this year received the National Society of Collegiate Scholars’ Inspire Integrity Award, for which he had nominated by his students.
Through it all, Davis says, Wooster has been the single greatest influence on his professional life.
“My approach to students, teaching, scholarship, and writing derives from beliefs and values that I can trace back to The College of Wooster…As an administrator, not a week went by without mentioning Wooster, and drawing on some value or belief or discipline that was nurtured at Wooster.”
Back when Davis was writing the first edition of his textbook in the early eighties, Dick Wynn, a Wooster classmate who now is vice president for finance and administration at Haverford College, wrote with some advice. “He said ‘make sure you write it for students, and include the Davisian humor.’ I kept that note in front of me while I was writing.”
Thirty years later, Davis’s student focus remains front and center. And when they open the new edition of his text, the very first thing they will read in the preface is a quote from Howard Lowry, Wooster’s president during Davis’s student days:
“Excellence and learning are not commodities to be bought at the corner store. Rather they dwell among rocks hardly accessible, and we must almost wear our hearts out in search of them.”
George Davis has never given less than his whole heart to that search, and he has no intention of changing.
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