Staff spotlight: Dr. Marie Hoerner working to make geology a study for everyone  

Like most kids, geology department instructor Dr. Marie Hoerner had a dinosaur phase. She just took it a little farther than most kids do. 

According to Hoerner, basic geology is all about rocks, but it’s also intricately intertwined with the environment and other functions of the Earth. Hoerner decided to pursue teaching in order to educate students who may not have other opportunities to take science classes during their college career. 

She began her study of geology at Colorado College and finished her Ph.D. in geophysical studies at the University of Chicago. Hoerner noted how happy she is to live in Colorado, which is rich with geological hotspots. 

While Hoerner was working on her master’s degree, she began to rethink her career track. While many jobs in her field would offer research opportunities, most jobs only focus on presenting scientific information to other scientists. It was in grad school while learning about paleo climatology that Hoerner began to understand the effects that ancient climate change had on the Earth.  

“It made what’s going on today with climate change look terrifying … I felt like it was important to communicate this to people who aren’t doing research on it,” she said. “If some of these important messages aren’t shared [in college], I don’t know when they would be.”  

Teaching and interacting with students is greatly important to Hoerner. She has gone out of her way to ensure that her classes are accessible and inclusive of all learning types. Students enrolled in her geology classes — or her newly created environmental systems of landforms and soils class — can expect greatly reduced test anxiety in exchange for “frequent low-stake assessments.”  

Hoerner typically assigns a weekly to bi-weekly concept sketch or discussion board, as well as reading assignments from affordable textbooks. She also records her lectures and uploads them online, noting her intent of taking some pressure off student attention spans. Her goal with presenting her information in different ways is to allow students with auditory or visual learning styles to access the material in a way that suits them. 

These considerations allow each in-person class’ weekly three-hour meeting time to be put toward field trips to see the beautiful geological landmarks Colorado Springs has to offer. These hands-on field days help kinesthetic learners to contextualize information in-person. 

Hoerner advises current students working toward a degree in any sort of science to take as many math, data analysis and computer science courses as possible.  

“In any field of science, you’re going to have to analyze data, and increasingly there’s more complex computerized mathematical approaches for analyzing larger data sets,” she said. “There are tons of applications for mathematical modeling, and not enough people that have that expertise.”  

As for students pursuing degrees in other non-STEM related areas, Hoerner is striving to create a place in the department that is approachable and welcoming for them.  

“It’s something that matters to me in particular because it’s a field that a lot of students tend to come in saying ‘I’m not good at this,’” she said. “I think that doesn’t reflect on student ability, but rather that the need to radically reform the way we teach science.”  

Most non-majors will be required to take some form of science course before they graduate, and according to Hoerner, those credits could be well-spent learning more about our environment. 

“You’re going to hear about climate change and environmental conservation-related issues in the news likely for the rest of your life,” she said. “Understanding a bit more about what and why people are concerned about that and what the options are … I think that’s something that’s valuable for anyone.” 

Headshot of Dr. Marie Hoerner from