Professor Shane McGary is a student-favorite for a number of reasons. Senior Kiki Krawcyck, currently taking McGary’s ISCI 101 course, stated, “Professor McGary strives to make this class extremely interactive. He goes out of his way to help students who appear to be struggling with the material and is approachable outside of the classroom.”
Although Professor McGary has only been a part of the Department of Geology and Environmental Science for three short years, he’s made a profound impact on his students and the university as a whole. I sat down with Professor McGary to learn more about his background, teaching philosophy, and impact on JMU.
What brought you to JMU?
“When I was an undergrad at Texas A&M, my undergrad research project had a huge impact on my education. They were what helped me compete for grad school at a high level. I wanted to teach at a place where undergraduate research was highly valued. Although I went to MIT, I wanted to go to a school where the time and effort I put into teaching wouldn’t be taking away from the research I should be doing. I thought JMU would be a place where I could accomplish both teaching and undergrad research.”
How long have you been teaching at JMU?
“This is my third year. I taught two years at the College of New Jersey and then received my doctorate in 2013 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
What is your favorite subject to teach?
“I have to say that I can’t narrow it down to one. I love my upper level global geo-physics class. That allows me to get into some really high level and cool stuff. I also enjoy teaching Isci 101, as I can impact a large number of students.”
What kind of research do you do outside of the classroom?
“I’m actually working on a number of different projects. One project that I’m working on is using ground penetrating radar to locate burials in slave cemeteries in Virginia.”
“The second set of projects I do uses finite difference models to analyze planetary problems like impact craters on Venus and thermal history of Ceres (the largest astroid in the astroid belt.) A third project is using resistivity geophysics to look at unmapped caves, specially around Grand Caverns. A similar project I’ve done looked at sub-surface water flow in limestone in Ireland.” McGary has been to Ireland numerous times to collect different data sets with different groups, and is trying to make this a long-term project. “My fourth project, and most expensive, is looking at some eocene volcanics in Virginia, around 50 million years ago using electromagnetic and seismic geophysics.”
What are your thoughts on teaching general education classes vs. classes for a specific major?
“General education courses are really important to me because it is crucial that we have informed citizens. We want people to be able to read an article about science and realize that it is consistent with what they have been taught. College graduates will be our leaders. The more informed our students are, the better off our society will be.”
Is there a particular moment where you helped a student that stands out to you?
“There’s not one particular instance that sticks out. I try to spend time with students and figure out what they’re struggling with. My first semester here I had a physics major looking to add a geophysics minor, she was my first research student. She just sent me a Facebook message the other day saying that she was accepted to med-school at Colorado Boulder, fully-funded. It’s really rewarding to see these successes in my students. With my ISCI students, I don’t usually see where they go but I see students who come to my office hours every week and I try to get them to a better place in the course.”
Along with great reviews from many students, many mention that you have a diverse collection of Hawaiian shirts you wear to class every day. Can you give me a little more background on your Hawaiian shirt collection?
“I try to have my class be pretty relaxed and laid back, it’s not always easy with a class of 95 students. The Hawaiian shirts set the tone. They make it so that first day, the students can understand the atmosphere that I’m trying to promote.”
Thank you Dr. McGary for making science fun and interactive!