Stanford Earth’s Steven Gorelick receives Excellence in Teaching Award
The school's Excellence in Teaching Award is presented to a faculty member annually during the commencement ceremony. The honoree is selected based on nominations from students, faculty, and alumni.
The work of a hydrologist involves managing a resource that people depend on for survival. For Professor Steven Gorelick, the precious resource is not just the water – it’s his students.
“Professor Gorelick teaches with the knowledge of someone who has been a professor for decades, while also teaching and lecturing with the zeal of someone who has just received their first professorship,” said a graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering who nominated Gorelick for Stanford Earth’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
Gorelick, the Cyrus Fisher Tolman Professor in Earth System Science, may be best known for his extensive research, which spans groundwater management, resource vulnerability analysis, ecohydrology, hydrogeophysics and more. This lifelong passion for learning is reflected in his teaching, with his “uncanny ability to understand and simply communicate both the big-picture and technical details.”
He is willing to go above and beyond what is required of professors so that his students will truly grasp and understand the material to the best of their abilities.
Many on campus have benefitted from his Hydrology Seminar. There, Gorelick brings together members of the Stanford community working on water resources and water quality issues. Gorelick developed the seminar to enable students and postdoctoral researchers to present their research and research ideas to receive wide-ranging feedback in a protected, friendly environment.
“After the talk, he personally sat with me and went over some of the ways in which I can improve my communication to make my presentation more engaging,” reflected a graduate student in Earth System Science. “It was evident that he hosted the course just out of passion for helping students improve, regardless of their affiliation or field of study.”
Gorelick has served on Stanford’s faculty since 1988, following a position as a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He earned a master's in Hydrology in 1977 and a PhD in Hydrology in 1981. Among his many honors and awards, he became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2016 and an elected member of the US National Academy of Engineering in 2012.
“Today’s problems that involve the protection and provision of freshwater resources are meager compared to what our students will face during their lifetime,” Gorelick said. “The most important job I have is to mentor students to acquire the tools, perspectives, and leadership skills they need to tackle these problems through careers in academia and industry.”
Gorelick’s teaching is guided by remembering how difficult it was to learn complex material, particularly highly quantitative stuff, he reflected. He approaches his classes with a sensitivity to what the students are absorbing and what they may be struggling with. As a result, he sometimes uses amusing analogies to physical processes that they observe or experience in everyday life.
“What impressed me most about Professor Gorelick was that he genuinely cares about his classes; not just about teaching the subject, but also about each student enrolled in his class,” one student said. “He is willing to go above and beyond what is required of professors so that his students will truly grasp and understand the material to the best of their abilities.”
Gorelick is a senior fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, directs the Global Freshwater Initiative at Stanford and runs the Hydrogeology and Water Resources Program at Stanford Earth.