Elizabeth Miller, Sibyl Diver receive Excellence in Teaching Awards
Recipients of the school’s annual Excellence in Teaching Awards are selected based on nominations from students, faculty, and alumni.
To receive a teaching award from nominators who experienced remote learning through a pandemic speaks to the flexibility and dedication of this year’s recipients. In 2021, the school recognized educators with the annual Excellence in Teaching Award who have both worked to expand learning opportunities for students across campus in their respective fields: geology and environmental justice.
Elizabeth Miller, a professor of geological sciences at Stanford Earth, was nominated by students, colleagues, and alumni for her mentorship, teaching, and outreach efforts to attract non-majors to geology. An additional Excellence in Teaching Award for a non-tenure-line faculty member was conferred this year to recognize Sibyl Diver, a lecturer in the Earth Systems Program who has supported countless students in highlighting and empowering community-led environmental justice (EJ) initiatives.
Field learning: Key to understanding Earth
Miller, who has been at Stanford for more than 40 years, leads a research group that explores the geological history of the planet. The structural geology and tectonics group addresses how the Earth deforms, with implications for fault and earthquake-related motion, hazards, and the exploration of natural resources. As the first woman to run the Stanford Geological Survey – when students and faculty went into the field to survey and map parts of California, Nevada, and Utah from 1895 to 1995 – and a leader in field education, she has been an invaluable role model to both graduate and undergraduate students.
“Elizabeth Miller has been the beating heart of [the Geological Sciences] department’s field program for four decades,” one colleague wrote. “She has educated generations of Stanford geology students in the field, served as a mentor and example to female field geologists, and has showed what I believe is an unparalleled dedication to personally helping advanced undergraduates learn difficult concepts.”
In 2011, Miller started the popular undergraduate field trip course, Living on the Edge (EARTH 15/GEOLSCI 5). The weekend field trips along the local coast teach non-majors about essential Earth science concepts and the natural history of Stanford’s campus lands. Now running multiple times per year and taught by additional faculty to meet student demand, the initiative is the result of Miller’s vision to offer students field teaching at whatever level and scale possible.
“Her field trips are well planned and engaging, so much that I have kept the field trip guides from each course as a reference,” a former undergraduate student commented. “At field camp and in Death Valley, students were directly involved in ongoing research and helped create and update geologic maps.”
In addition to her work to create engaging field learning experiences, Miller was recognized for her exceptional ability to teach complex geological theories and garner interest in the discipline. Several nominators credited Miller with forging their pathways into careers in geology.
“In her courses, I always felt like an active participant in my learning, and I could clearly see how the topics we were covering related to the professional skills of a geologist and how they could be used in research,” according to a recent undergraduate student. “Her welcoming approach and genuine interest in student learning creates an inviting and inclusive atmosphere, and fosters a positive perception of the professional culture of field work.”
Perhaps most important, she fosters meaningful connections with students as an educator, mentor, and advocate.
“One of the most unique aspects of the Geological Sciences program during my time at Stanford was the accessibility of faculty and their willingness to spend time talking with and advising undergraduates,” a former undergraduate student commented. “Elizabeth was essential in creating this type of culture in the department.”
Bringing authenticity to the classroom
As a lecturer in the Earth Systems Program, Diver has brought topics involving intersectionality, social justice impacts, and diversity into sustainability and environmental science learning communities across the university. She teaches several courses on environmental justice and environmental governance, and co-created the first comprehensive EJ intro course at Stanford, Introduction to Environmental Justice(PWR 194EP), which teaches the fundamentals of EJ scholarship and practice to students ranging from freshmen to PhDs.
“What makes her such a praiseworthy educator is the incredible rapport she builds with students, and the self-awareness she demonstrates when thinking about her pedagogy and her own positionality as the instructor and her relationship to her students,” one colleague commented. “Sibyl is someone who really ‘walks the talk’ on her principles.”
More recently, Diver helped establish the Environmental Justice and Human Rights Lab (HUMRTS 196/EARTHSYS 196A) together with collaborators at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice as an intellectual hub and supportive learning community for students engaging in EJ and human rights work. It has helped graduate students bring environmental justice and human rights approaches into their dissertation research, supported campus leaders and participation in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and encouraged peer learning about scholarship and anti-racist approaches to research and teaching.
“I cannot express just how instrumental Dr. Diver has been in leading this innovative lab,” a colleague wrote. “I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have benefitted from [her] wisdom and joy in the classroom and I know I speak for countless students when I say she is an inspiring teacher, a moral force, and a fierce and compassionate collaborator.”
That sentiment was echoed in nomination letters from students, who expressed appreciation for Diver’s championship of inclusion, personal connection, and authenticity in her interactions with students and colleagues.
“She approaches sensitive and difficult topics with grace, ensuring a safe space for student engagement,” according to a PhD student. “Her excellence in teaching shines in and outside the classroom, and [she] will forever be one of those key professors who has touched my life in a truly impactful and significant way.”
Diver conducts community-engaged research on Indigenous water governance, with a focus on Pacific Northwest salmon watersheds. In addition to her roles as an educator and interdisciplinary environmental scientist, she has worked for years to engage the campus community with environmental justice scholarship, most recently through co-leading the Stanford Environmental Justice Working Group, a collective of students, staff, and faculty working to embed environmental justice into research, teaching, and community engagement at Stanford.
“She has taught me that being curious, centering others’ voices, always learning, building community, and showing compassion are vital to living a life that is full of meaning,” an undergraduate student commented. “She embodies these every day.”