Robbie Donald

What outreach or public engagement do you do?

I teach people about Earth Sciences (rocks, minerals, fossils, Earth processes, geology).  I've done this on field trips, at university events, in public schools, at conferences and in my university lab.

Why are you passionate about reaching out to young people or the public?

We live surrounded by Earth science.  Everything we touch and see on a daily basis in British Columbia has Earth science at its roots.  We take a lot for granted in our lives without thinking about where things come from.  Giving people the tools to interpret their surroundings is an important part of teaching Earth science.  I have a passion for opening peoples' eyes to the Earth around them.  Nobody is too young or too old to enjoy geology.  When they see the Earth and its processes through a geological perspective their perception of our planet and their place in it is forever changed.

What got you into it?

When I started my job at the university in 1995 I realized that I could help public school teachers by allowing their classes to come into the labs for free workshops.  Most teachers lacked the knowledge or resources to teach an Earth science component but together we could produce a wonderful learning experience for their students.

You are a scientist. Did you ever want to be something else?

No.  I absolutely love geology.

What do you like most about doing outreach?

I love the questions that I get asked.  Sometimes I know the answers, sometimes I don't and then it turns into a learning experience for me as well.

What was your first summer job?

I worked for a geological consulting firm from Edmonton.  They flew me up to Great Bear Lake in the North West Territories and I lived in a camp all summer while prospecting for silver and uranium.

What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t working?

When I'm not out collecting rocks and fossils for fun, I like to travel, garden, listen to music, knit, read, hike, hang out with my son and daughter and watch hockey, football and nature shows.

If you could meet one famous person for coffee who would it be?

I would invite the Queen of England to tea.  She has a long and distinguished career as the head of the Commonwealth and has seen just about everything.  She also has a love of animals and a great sense of humor.

What 5 words would you use to describe yourself?

Fun, creative, compassionate, organized, curious.

What advice do you have for a young person wanting to pursue outreach as a part of a science?

Volunteering in science is not only about teaching science to the public, it's a wonderful way of learning yourself.  I'm constantly learning new things as I think about how to teach people about Earth Science.  Not everybody finds learning easy, some people have English as a second language or have learning disabilities.  You will always be challenged and may have to find alternate ways to approach teaching.  You may have to come at a subject from different angles several different times to get a person to understand what you are trying to convey.  Outreach is always fun, completely satisfying and should be on everybody's "to try" list.