William & Mary honors Hein with teaching award

  • Teaching   Dr. Christopher Hein explains the origin and evolution of Virginia's barrier islands to students during VIMS' annual orientation field trip to the the Eastern Shore.   Laura Patrick/VIMS.
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VIMS professor to receive Thomas Jefferson Teaching award at Charter Day

Dr. Christopher Hein, Associate Professor at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will receive the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award during the university’s annual Charter Day ceremony on February 11th in Kaplan Arena.

Charter Day is an annual tradition that celebrates W&M’s founding in 1693 by royal charter. It is also an occasion to honor the contributions of some of the university’s outstanding students, faculty members, and alumni. This year’s Charter Day ceremony, which begins at 4 p.m., will mark the university’s 329th “birthday.”

Dr. Christopher Hein. © S. Salpukas/W&M.W&M will celebrate four award winners during the 2022 ceremony. Joining Hein are Paul Marcus, R. Hugh and Nolie Haynes Professor of Law, winner of the Thomas Jefferson Award; Cameron Lynch ’23, winner of the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership; and Mikayla Huffman ’22, winner of the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

The Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award recognizes “a teaching member of the William & Mary community who has demonstrated, through concern as a teacher and through character and influence, the inspiration and stimulation of learning to the betterment of the individual and society as exemplified by Thomas Jefferson.”

Dr. Linda Schaffner, Associate Dean of Academic Studies in W&M’s School of Marine Science at VIMS, says “Chris is truly ‘all in’ on the education front. His students and advisees describe him as enthusiastic and effective and give him high accolades for being authentically committed to their learning. His prowess as a researcher in the field of coastal geology allows him to provide exciting training opportunities for the next generation of scientists.”

Hein displays a map of Virginia's barrier islands to students during VIMS' annual orientation field trip to the Eastern Shore. © L. Patrick/VIMS.Since arriving at VIMS in 2013, Hein has taught seven different graduate-level courses and a pair of courses regularly offered to undergraduates, including those enrolled or interested in W&M’s minor in marine science. All these courses include a significant lab component, field component, or both.

“I dedicate a lot of time to teaching,” says Hein, who in 2017 was a recipient of both the VIMS Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award and the W&M Alumni Fellows Award for Teaching Excellence and in 2018 was a recipient of a Plumeri Faculty Award. “It’s about prioritization. You lose sleep thinking about course preparation, worrying about students, and certainly staying up late working on grading, editing student writing, and helping them improve. We all do. All good instructors do that, I'm sure.

“This award in some way, it doesn’t validate the ability; it validates the time and the value I place on teaching. I find it a nice recognition of the enormous commitment and dedication required to do that to part of my job well, and I am grateful to VIMS and William & Mary for also valuing dedication to teaching.”

Dr. Derek Aday, VIMS Dean & Director, says “Chris has a unique ability to engage students and explain complex concepts in creative and memorable ways. He also shares his teaching and research with the broader community of coastal residents and stakeholders. Dr. Hein is a tremendous asset to our teaching faculty and to VIMS.”

Enthusiasm is his calling card

Hein gets it from his students every semester. When they write their evaluations of his class, the word enthusiastic is used quite often. Perhaps that explains how undergraduate enrollment quadrupled in the first four years he taught Fundamentals of Geological Oceanography.

“I think working with students, working with colleagues, working on science to me is very invigorating,” Hein says. “I derive a lot of energy from that and therefore mirror that energy back in those interactions.”

Hein joins with members of his lab to drill a sediment core on Wallops Island. © D. Malmquist/VIMS.It’s why Hein pours so much of his time and effort into his job. He is internationally recognized as a scientific expert on topics ranging from beach erosion and dune management to carbon cycling and coastal change over thousands of years. His recent work has focused on the barrier islands of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a vital region of the Commonwealth that is threatened by climate change and coastal development.

Hein has authored 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters in influential outlets such as Marine Geology and Nature

His enthusiasm shines through in many ways, from his lectures to his roles as researcher and research advisor. He spends time at VIMS in Gloucester Point, on the main W&M campus, and in various locales as a guest speaker.

He likes to visit his field sites, such as Chincoteague Island on the Eastern Shore, when not collecting data and samples, to explain to people living there how the land on which they live was formed.

“For me, I really love being able to look out my window, understand the world and the landscape around me formed and then to share that with others,” Hein says.

For details on the other winners of W&M’s 2022 Charter Day awards, read the full story on the W&M website.