Fernbank’s R. Scott Harris named Outstanding Earth Science Teacher

By Carla Parker

r. scott harrisThe National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) has named Fernbank Science Center planetary geologist R. Scott Harris Outstanding Earth Science Teacher for Georgia.

Outstanding Earth Science Teacher (OEST) awards are given for “exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth Sciences at the pre-college level,” according to NAGT. Any teacher or other K-12 educator who covers a significant amount of earth science content with their students is eligible. Ten national finalists are selected, one from each NAGT regional section. Georgia State University Professor Pamela Gore nominated Harris for the award.

“To be recognized by my professional community of geoscientists and geoscience educators for having a significant impact on increasing the knowledge and enthusiasm for geology in my native Georgia is an incredible honor,” Harris said. “I’m an active research scientist who has been studying earth and space science since I was very young. I first used a petrographic microscope to look at minerals when I was seven. Science for me is not a job or even a vocation—it’s a lifestyle. So, it is a privilege to have the opportunity every day to share my passion with students of all ages, from preschoolers in the classroom to their grandparents who still visit the planetarium to explore the solar system.”

Harris received a plaque from NAGT and other prizes for this honor. He joined the Fernbank Science Center faculty in the fall of 2014. Along with teaching, Harris is a world traveler, field geologist and petrologist. He has spent most of his 30-year career studying the record of asteroid and comet impacts on Earth.

“The geology of the solar system is what I know and who I am, so doing my best to inspire students of all ages to have just a little extra understanding and appreciation for our Earth and its planetary environment is what I strive to do every day,” Harris said. “I feed off the wide-eyed excitement of young students who dare to dream to walk on other planets. I feel satisfaction when I hand a meteorite to a grandmother and her grandkids, and the grandmother’s eyes twinkle with the realization that they are touching the dust grains from which our solar system was created.”

Harris said he thought it was a bit odd to receive the award in 2020 when direct contact with students and the community has been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So, I may have used that as motivation to develop a broad series of virtual planetarium programming that I broadcast, to really an international audience, five days a week,” Harris said. “I am able to share my research and passions in a brand new way, and most importantly, I get to bring in—via Zoom—my colleagues and friends from around the world and provide our DeKalb and Atlanta communities with access to experts and perspectives of the universe at a level that we weren’t doing pre-pandemic.”

To read more on Harris’ Outstanding Earth Science Teacher award, visit https://nagt.org/nagt/awards/oest/2020_oest.html.