Dean Pamela Matson presents the 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award to Richard Nevle, deputy director of the Earth Systems Program at Stanford Earth. Photo Credit: Douglas Peck
Stanford Earth’s Richard Nevle receives Excellence in Teaching Award
To some undergraduate students in the Earth Systems Program at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Richard Nevle is an advisor. To others, he is a teacher. His ability to combine those roles is his true gift.
“He has approached every situation with intention and care, challenged me, and inspired belief in myself…he has been a steadfast advisor, a rigorous educator, and a sensitive and compassionate father figure,” one graduate student wrote in a letter nominating Nevle for the school’s Excellence in Teaching Award. “He empowered me as a student to achieve more than I thought possible.”
Nevle has served as deputy director of the interdisciplinary Earth Systems Program – the school’s largest undergraduate major – since 2015, and as a lecturer at Stanford since 2011. In recognition for his inspirational teaching, he was presented the school’s Excellence in Teaching Award during the June 18, 2017 commencement ceremony.
“I’m profoundly grateful to have the opportunity to work with the brilliant and creative students in Stanford’s Earth Systems Program and in the university’s larger environmental community,” Nevle said. “My students inspire me – this work is my calling.”
The son of a teacher who later became the principal of a Jesuit high school, Nevle said teaching is in his blood. He credits his father with shaping his approach to education, which is based on cultivating meaningful relationships with students and nurturing passion for the subject matter. As a reminder of this objective, Nevle wrote the following message on a Post-It Note and stuck it above his desk a couple of years ago: It’s about the students.
“I love creating a conversation in which I get to learn from the students,” Nevle said. “It’s not just the teaching that I thrive on, it’s the learning I get to do because of this conversation.”
It was one of those conversations – with 2017 Earth Systems graduate Fiona Noonan, who taught her own course as part of her senior capstone project, that crystallized a way for Nevle to articulate his approach to teaching. Noonan told Nevle that in the process of leading her own course, she came to realize that “Teaching is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
“Education is one of those really long-term investments,” Nevle said. “Sometimes the seeds lie dormant for a while, and it might take some time before they germinate – I see success as planting seeds in students’ minds that help them start to expand how they see themselves, the world, and their agency in it.”
Prior to working at Stanford, Nevle taught for seven years at Santa Clara University and 14 years at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif. He earned his PhD in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford in 1995 under the tutelage of Dennis Bird, then served as a visiting scholar at Stanford from 2004 to 2011.
“A few years after my daughter was born, I started to feel like the teaching and research that I was involved with were not moving the needle fast enough on the grand environmental challenges we’re facing – the urgency is so great.”
In addition to conveying this sense of urgency to his pupils, Nevle participates in environmental activism, writing Op Eds with his wife. One of his most popular courses, Wild Writing (EARTHSYS 249), which Nevle coteaches with Emily Polk, a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, aims to empower students to become more persuasive environmental storytellers and advocates.
Nevle lives with his wife and daughter in San Jose. When he is not teaching, he enjoys writing, birding, backpacking, and spending time with his family.