CETL Podcast - Episode 12 - Jason Kaiser

Tony Pellegrini: Goodmorning friends at SUU! Tony Pellegrini here with Teaching and Learning at SUU-our podcast series- and for 2019-2020 year we are honoring diverse faculty who won awards on campus, and provided some great support to students and to faculty across campus and today we have Jason Kaiser with us. Jason thanks so very much for coming in and being willing to visit with us and talk about your successes and your activities here at SUU. Could you start with maybe telling us a little bit about how long you've been here, where you've come from and a little about your background? Would you be able to do that?

Jason Kaiser: Sure

Tony: Thank you so very much

Jason: Thanks for inviting me

Tony: You're welcome

Jason: It seems like I've been here about three days, but I've been at SUU - this is the start of my sixth year

Tony: It goes fast doesn't it

Jason: It goes a little too fast I think. I'm a little concerned how fast it's going.

Tony: It's a nice place when you're in nice places you tend to enjoy it. Where did you come from before you came to SUU?

Jason: You know it's hard to call a place home before SUU. I came from Oregon, I went to Oregon State University for my PhD, and I was hired while still working on my PhD, they took a chance on me. I just got in under the deadline - I finished my PhD and moved right to Cedar City.

Tony: Wonderful, well you know it is a beautiful place, not quite as beautiful maybe as Oregon but it still-

Jason: It certainly has its beauty and its charm.

Tony: It is a wonderful place to be. A few questions, as you're aware, we like to do this podcast to celebrate great teaching and great learning at SUU, and as educators we do both of those: we teach and we learn as well. Can you tell us a little about some of the courses that you teach some of the passions that you have for the content that you really dive deep into?

Jason: Yeah I think I tell a lot of students when I start - now I'm going to reveal a secret-

Tony: Shh don't tell anyone.

Jason: And I always say this the start of the semester which wasn't that long ago; I always introduce the class and  I say, "This has to be my favorite class to teach." And in that moment it always feels like it is, then I feel bad saying that because I have another class that I love, and another class that I love, and I'm very lucky to teach a lot of fun and exciting interesting  classes for me, and I've taught them every year that I've been here, and I'm nowhere near being sick of them. I don't have any fatigue with them, so I absolutely love them, and I teach a whole array of geology classes and some of my favorite - well see there I go again I'm going to  say it again. I really love teaching a natural hazards and disasters class because that really gets people thinking.When you show videos of volcanoes erupting and earthquakes shaking buildings to the ground and hurricanes destroying a coastline it's devastating and it's scary but it's also fascinating and scientifically it's thrilling, so I really love teaching that class. It gets people interested in what we do in the science and so I really do enjoy that class. As far as our geology majors, I teach pretty much anything related to how rocks form. On the surface I think that sounds kind of boring and even  saying it sounds pretty boring, "how do rocks form" and it usually has a pretty simple answer until you spend 15 weeks talking about it. But how do rocks and minerals form and grow -  that's what we talk about from the chemical level all the way up to their role in geology.

Tony: See because you've about got my interest piqued already.

Jason: And there we go!

Tony: Now plants grow... rocks grow?

Jason: Rocks grow! They form as simple molecules and and just keep going and they get bigger and bigger.

Tony: I guess I need to take your class.

Jason: Then they erode and get smaller and smaller, and the process starts all over again.
Jason: So we spend a lot of time talking about those sorts of things- anything related to- my expertise is in volcanoes, and so I spend a lot of time thinking and studying magma chambers and so, how do minerals form and grow in magma, how does that lead to an eruption, those are the sorts of questions we discuss in class.

Tony: Now you've got me full of questions here. Have you ever been to a volcano?

Jason: Oh,  of course yeah.

Tony: Tell me about one or two that you really were excited to see.

Jason: You know I think one of my favorite place in the world for teaching, for my own personal kind of mental health space, just a place to go, its got to be Yellowstone National Park, and that's actually the park that got me into geology, I didn't even know that Yellowstone was a volcano when I was in college. Maybe I shouldn't admit that.

Tony: No we're all learning were lifelong learners,

Jason: Thats right, I didn't know. I was an engineering major in college. I started out as an engineer and I saw a documentary, fell in love with Yellowstone without having even been there, and was fascinated, and the next day, changed my major

Tony: Oh my goodness

Jason:And so... impulsive? Yes.  Worked our fine so here we go.

Tony: But you followed that little voice, that little spirit inside of you that said,"Hey this is what you need to do."

Jason: And It was a pretty strong voice, it was yelling at me, so it was a pretty easy decision and (I) didn't make it to Yellowstone until years later and it's hard not to fall in love with that place and I was fortunate enough a couple years ago to take a class to Yellowstone and spend a week there. That's one of my favorite places. A few years back I was at a conference in Japan and the point of the conference was understanding how volcanoes interact with local populations. So, what hazards would that present and so were in this beautiful city in southern Japan right in the shadow of a volcano that's erupting the whole time we're there. So the whole city is blanketed in ash, you have to kind of watch your step sometimes and then we went out and were hiking around the volcano while its erupting that is one of the experiences that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life, it was one of those confirmations that, "Yes I'm doing the right thing with my life with my career, because this is fascinating."

Tony: And you can share that passion with your learners here at SUU. 

Jason: Absolutely yeah and I show those videos from when I was on that volcano all the time and we get to talk about it a lot, and I hope the students get to see that it's been years -  I've been at this for a little while - not that long yet, but I'm still like a little kid when I get to talk about geology; Not just volcanoes but just geology in general. I'm like a little kid and I get excited, so I hope that translates to their excitement.

Tony: That is wonderful and I'm sure you've had teachers that have inspired you along the way and you are doing the same thing for your learners, 

Jason: Absolutely, I'm paying it forward I hope.

Tony: You are you certainly are with me and im not even that interested in rocks that wonderful

Soon , soon we'll getcha

Tony: The one rocks I'm interested in - my wifes interested in - getting out of our garden, so those are the most common for me.
Certainly there are some common myths about the topic of of geology or volcanoes, whichever you like to deal with, or both. What are some of the myths? You talked a little about secrets already, tell us a little about myths.

Jason: It think - I don't know if they're myths for the science but they are myths for me a lot of people assume: You're geologist: where's the oil, or wheres the gold. I have no idea or I'd be going to do that! No I don't think I could do that for a career. There are a lot of times where people come in from the community and they think they have a chunk of gold, and they hand it to me and they're like, "I found gold, help me" that sort of thing. I think they assume every geologist is an expert in oil and gas or minerals, and yeah, I teach about minerals but I don't necessarily know how time mine minerals. I don't necessarily know how to mine iron ore out of the ground, I'm not an expert in that. I think a lot of people think geology its something to do with dirt or licking rocks or, we're called rock lickers all the time or something like that or finding oil or gas. And those are all parts of the science, but it's a really diverse science, and it's really anything to do with the natural systems of the planet and so people who have foundations in geology can go on and study the climate, they can study meteorology. Maybe they start with the climate of meteorology and they go into other parts of geology. Oceanography, paleontology,  these are all fields that are kind of housed under this big umbrella of geology and so people have a very limited view. It's not necessarily a myth but maybe it's just a limited view of what we do.

Tony: Okay that makes total sense to me, it provides a lot of opportunity being able to see how you can connect with others with other interests. We've talked a lot about you, you've talked a lot about that content, digging deep into that content, tell me about your learners. What do you love about teaching? What do you love about connecting with these 18,20,30 year olds, whatever comes in contact with you? What do you love about the human side of that?

Jason: Yeah that's the best part. That's why we're here, is making that connecting. Like I said earlier, in the hazards class it's really easy to connect because I can show them a video or a picture, and I can see their face right away, and I can tell right away okay you're hooked let's talk about this. And I really love that connection, especially being in Southern Utah,where these students are predominantly from Utah - Southern Utah - they see this thing all the time, they drive past it all the time, and then I tell them what is is and just opening that door and adding that little bit of extra knowledge. Maybe it makes their drive a little more complicated now because they're thinking about things a little bit more.

Tony: A cinder cone may turn into a volcano someday!

Jason: Look at you bringing geology terms in. 

Tony:I'm an old elementary principal from Hurricane and we had some cinder cones down there.

Jason:That's true and those are the examples I use. So I really do like bring that connection - or I guess - building the connection between the students and their own backyard. They get to see,"Oh, I've been living on this faultline for a long time, now I understand the fault line even better." Or, "I've been living next to this volcano, or this landslide" whatever it is, and just that look on their face when they get that connection, that's really important to me. And so then I know I have them and they are coming back and they're asking me more and more questions and I thrive on that. And with the majors it's kind of the same thing but at a deeper level where they kind of assume a generic model like, "Okay this is how the world works, this is how this system operates" and then my famous saying is, "Well a granite isn't a granite anymore in my class." Tt's much more complicated and so you won't call it a granite anymore - for example, so students find out how complex things are but then they really become invested in that complexity and so I really like showing them how complex things are yet how accessible things are. And I think it's important to do both in geology. 

Tony: And I would really appreciate from the point of view of a student: your willingness to listen to questions, and to answer questions, or to address questions and you know, some don't see questions as a benefit. "Hey you didn't get this here if you still have questions." But I really appreciate that - you know - that questioning.

Jason: I think if they don't have questions I'm not doing my job right. In my classes, the way I've designed it, the way I hope things go; if they don't have questions, something didn't work.And my job, as I see it anyway, and maybe I'm wrong, but my job is to spark those questions and then maybe I'm the answer, maybe they go find the answer somewhere else. But, as long as they are asking the questions, I've done my job,

Toni: And that's lifelong learning. That's what we hope we are able to engender in our learners. Talk to us a little bit, and let's go back in time just a little bit, I know you started up at the University or Oregon-

Jason: Oregon State!

Tony: Excuse me!

Jason: That's a big deal!

Tony: Oh, it is I am so embarrassed! I got Oregon right.

Jason: There are going to be ducks listening to this.

Tony: I am so embarrassed please forgive me!
But could you go back to a little bit of how you got started, and that I know you've mentioned that you were focused on engineering, but oh my gosh, that one thing happened in regards to  changing your life and changing your perspective. Again, maybe for our learners that are searching or are looking, "Am I really studying the right thing." Could you just talk us through that experience just a little bit and in detail a little bit.

Jason: You know yeah, and I hope this in in line with the answer, but one of the quotes that just jumped into my head was (from) an advisor I had in grad school, he said, "Never let school get in the way of your education." And so I hope that's kind of fitting with that, and I think for me it was opening myself up to education outside of the classroom and realizing I could learn a lot of things. In my case I was the guy who sat at home watching Discovery Channel, National Geographic, whatever it was, watching documentaries or finding a book to read about Yellowstone National Park for instance. But, realizing that learning was outside the classroom and I needed to go back to the classroom to get more information about what I was becoming passionate about.  If I had left the blinders on and focused on what I needed to do in the classroom I would have missed out on this life-changing  opportunity. And I'm sure I would have been somewhat successful maybe, I know, I'm sure I could have gotten through it but the happiness that I have now and the joy that I have in my career and in my life; There's no way I could compete, and I think it's because I opened myself up to maybe non conventional education. Not necessarily in the classroom, not necessarily from -

Tony: Still come to college, students.

Jason: I"m not saying leave SUU, I'm not saying leave college, but be aware while you're in class while you're listening to these great faculty all over SUU's campus, be aware that there are other opportunities to learn and if you're finding yourself constantly interested in the same thing over and over again, and it's not happening in the classroom, that maybe that's telling you something, and maybe you need to seek out some of the faculty here to bring that interest and that passion into the classroom. And maybe it means changing your major and changing your whole life like I did, maybe it's as simple as taking a different class. But, I think it's just opening yourself up to those extra opportunities

Tony: And being brave. I think there are many opportunities. I'm really very pleased with what student services and student government are doing with field trips. There's so many beautiful places to go in the within the two or three hours of Cedar City, if you have an opportunity and you have a Saturday afternoon, get out and explore and it creates some questions and bring those questions back to your teachers or back to your classes that you have here. I think that's a wonderful opportunity

Jason: And it doesn't have to be that you're looking for a new passion, but maybe how to link what you're seeing and what you're doing to your passion, and we end up taking a lot of non geology students on our field trips. Most of my hazards class for example, they're not geology students and they never will be, but if they can find something in there to link to what they are passionate about, vice-versa, then that's going to help them in their majors and their classes and I think it adds - it enriches - their education and that's the goal.

Tony: Just one last question, on the Kaiser scale, one to ten, how weird are you? I have to ask, my listeners say, "Ask him! Ask him about how weird he is!"

Jason: So... is ten the weirdest?

Tony:I think so, ten is the weirdest.

Jason: Yeah it might vary day to day, but I have to be in that solid seven range.

Tony: Okay, pressing the envelope there.

Jason: Yeah, I think it's important, I'm old enough now that I can be a little more comfortable in my weirdness, and I think I can understand that it's actually normal to be weird, so maybe weird isn't weird, if that makes any sense at all. Maybe that's what makes me weird, maybe that's why I'm weird.

Tony: And I think maybe that's why our listeners like it so much, because we're all a little bit-

Jason: I hope so.

Tony: I hope we are and just as you find in your emergency class and your volcano class and your hazard class, that you have learners from different areas because there's in interest in there, that's what creates an interest across our community.
Anything  that I've left out that you'd like to share, please?  

Jason: Oh gosh, you know, I think we touched on a lot of things that I think are important and I think they're important to me and my teaching style and SUU and what SUU values, but I think for the students if- you know- any students that are listening just know that I think all of the faculty on campus - we're here because we want to be here - we're not here because we couldn't get the job in oil and gas, or gold and so we're here instead. The people that are here because this is their choice, this is where they want to be, and the faculty and staff here work very hard at that. I'm surrounded by amazing colleagues. Any success that I've had is because of my colleagues and so students, take advantage of that, take advantage of that passion and it's a great place.

Tony: And that will carry you through, won't it?

Jason: Absolutely.

Tony: Through the difficult moments that you have.

Jason: Absolutely.

Tony: Friends, Jason Kaiser. Please reach out to him. If you're a student take one of his classes, if you're a faculty member take one of his classes, and you may see me there as well too! But reach out to Jason if you'd like to sit in or see some of the fun things that he does in his class with his learners, I'm sure he'd be very welcoming.

Jason: Please, please do. Come see us in the new geosciences building!

Tony: It is beautiful, I met you over there. It's a beautiful space. Jason, again, thank you. I appreciate you, (I'm) grateful for your contributions here at SUU, and keep doing what you're doing, would you please?

Jason: I will try

Tony: Thank you one and all, have a great day!


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