Assistant professor Christopher Hein of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has received an Alumni Fellowship award from William & Mary for his contributions to teaching and scholarship.
Established in 1965 and first presented in 1968, the awards are given annually to 5 younger faculty members who are particularly outstanding as teachers. The awards are designed to help ensure that the high academic standards of the College are retained. In 1993, the Class of 1968, in celebration of its 25th Reunion, permanently endowed the award, which carries a $1,000 honorarium for each recipient.
The 2017 award winners were recognized at a banquet at the W&M Alumni House on September 15th. Other winners of the Alumni Fellowship awards are Anne Blazer (Religious Studies), Gerard Chouin (History), Jorge Terukina (Hispanic Studies), and Douglas Young (Chemistry).
Hein studies barrier islands in his quest to understand geological change over the past 6,000 years, and how coasts may change in response to climate change in the future. His field research has taken him from Virginia and New England to Alaska, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, and France, among other places.
Field work is one of the ways Hein engages undergraduate and graduate researchers in geological study. His goal is to help students, whether they are in their first geology class or pursuing a graduate degree in the field, visualize how the physical environment changes over time.
“To be able to teach a student the basics that allow them to look at the world in that way and maybe see it for the first time—to me, that’s what it’s all about,” he says.
“This is not the type of work that can be done alone," Hein adds. "You need a team, and William & Mary students make for the best field crew I’ve ever had." Students help with his research projects but also pursue their own projects under his mentorship. “That’s the exciting part of it," Hein says, 'to watch students grow as researchers. Not just as learners, but as scientists.”
Since arriving at VIMS in 2013, Hein has advised 3 graduate students in the School of Marine Science at VIMS, supervised 10 W&M undergraduates, and mentored 2 other undergrads as part of VIMS’ Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. He teaches courses on a variety of topics, including Fundamentals of Marine Geology, Principles of Geological Oceanography, Rivers: Processes and Problems, and Coastal Evolution. His excellence in teaching was also recognized earlier this year with VIMS' own Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award.
Hein became fascinated by coastal change while growing up on Long Island. “You go to the beach in summer and it looks entirely different from the beach in winter,” he says. “You can watch earth processes in action, watch the landscape form, watch the landscape change, and recognize these same processes are acting over hundreds to thousands of years and forming the landscapes that we see today. That was appealing to me.”
Hein's selection as a 2017 winner of the W&M Alumni Fellowship award puts him in an illustrious group. Previous VIMS professors to win the award are Eric Hilton (2013), Kam Tang (2009), Carl Friedrichs (2005), and Elizabeth Canuel (2001).