Dr. Melinda Higley

An Interview with Dr. Melinda Higley

By Natalie Vredevoogd

Don’t know our newest and incredibly talented faculty member, Dr. Melinda Higley? We’ve got you covered.

Dr. Higley, Thanks for sharing a little about your life today. When did you graduate Calvin and what did you study here?

I graduated in 2007, studying geology. I got a Bachelor of Science in environmental geology, to be specific.


Where did you study after that? 

I did a master’s degree at the University of Toledo Ohio and I studied geology there as well. So, I’m a true geologist. I did my PhD at the University of Illinois and I graduated in 2018.


What interested you about geology?

I knew I wanted to be a geologist since 10th grade. Although, I went through some major shifts in finding what exactly that meant for me. When I first started high school I was really into astronomy, but I also had this nagging suspicion that I would not excel at a math heavy science. So, I thought, how can I study planets and stars not with math, and I realized that I could probably do it with geology. I thought that’s what I wanted to do, and then at some point I decided that I would rather be a hydrogeologist and then be a missionary. I don’t know how I got from Mars to hydrogeology. Through my geology studies, I learned how many options there were for studying geology, and I realized that I loved it for itself and not so that it would guide me on any particular career track.

Dr. Melinda Higley, teaching.

Why did you decide to come back to Calvin to teach? 

I really enjoy teaching and mentoring. I wanted to be at a place that emphasized student centered learning and research experiences so that I could be a mentor on a project that involves students doing their own research. So, that’s ultimately what drew me here and being able to do that in a Christian environment. That just makes it so perfect, when you are working with colleagues and students and you don’t have to measure what you say for fear of being thought of as strange or not very scientific because you are religious. It’s nice to be working in an environment where that’s not the case and where you can wear your heart on your sleeve, so to speak.


Do you have any hobbies? 

Yes, I am a cyclist. It’s a very time-consuming hobby, so it is one of my only ones. I like to ride all kinds of bikes. My husband and I are very proud of the fact that we are a one car family, which sort of makes up for crazy bike habit in terms of household expenses. I like to race bikes, or I used to anyways. I’m kind of getting out of that a little bit ’cause it’s hard. I will ride really long distances. I’ll ride mountain bike races and cyclocross races, and I’ve done ultra-cycling in the past. The longest I’ve ever ridden though, and a lot of people have done this, is 163 miles in a day. I guess that’s my personal best in terms of ultra-cycling. I like all kinds of cycling.


Do you have a pet peeve you would like to tell your students about?

I do have one, and I don’t know if it is very fair… and that is, when students are more concerned about what exactly is on the test than just enjoying learning the material. If I have to teach to the test, this is not going to be fun. That’s my pet peeve.


If you could live any place in the world, where would you live? 

I’ve always been a Midwest person. So, the Midwest person in me wants to say Marquette, Michigan. However, if I could really live anywhere in the world, I would probably choose Grand Junction, Colorado. I love mountain biking, and I wish I could spend my time doing that, to the exclusion of all other things. So, if I live in Grand Junction, I could mountain bike all the time.

Melinda Higley

Do you have a favorite rock or mineral?

My favorite mineral is gypsum because I had to work with it so much for my PhD. My favorite rock is, it’s kind of boring, but its rhyolite from the St. Francis mountains in Missouri. Not just any rhyolite, but this rhyolite. It is very very old for the central US.


What did you do your PhD on? 

I did my PhD not on rocks. I did my PhD on tropical Pacific climate. My specialty is paleoclimatology. I studied paleoclimatology with lake sediment. So, really, I prefer mud over rocks, hands down. I studied how the climate in the Pacific has changed over the last two thousand years. The tools I used to do that were lake sediment and remote sensing.


Ok, so do you have a favorite kind of mud?

Um, yeah, my favorite kind of mud is carbonate and microbial mat rich. It is very colorful. It is very beautiful.

Dr. Melinda Higley and Dr. Ralph Stearley

How do envision yourself fitting into the GEO Department and it’s community?

That’s a very serious question for me because I’m replacing Ralph Stearly, who I had as an instructor, so I feel like I have big shoes to fill. It’s a great honor. I see myself fitting in by teaching historical geography in place of Ralph Stearly, and I’m really excited to teach historical and Sed Strat.  I see myself adding some flavors to the department as well. I would like to bring in some geophysical studies and I would like to emphasize lake sediment in our Sed Strat. class. Lake sediment is my actual favorite rock. So I hope and pray that I can teach historical geography and Sed Strat. in a way that represents the best of the department and continues the legacy that Ralph has built. That is my main concern, and I also have my own flavor of how I want to do research and things I want to do that will be brand new for the department.

Thanks Dr. Higley! It was a great pleasure to get to know you today!

If you are interested in geology at Calvin University, come check out our classes in the GEO Department and take a class with the awesome, Dr. Melinda Higley!


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