JOHNSON CITY (July 10, 2019) – Dr. Michael Whitelaw spends a lot of his time outside the classroom “getting the word out” about science. Each year, he introduces thousands of children to rocks and minerals, and fossils found in Northeast Tennessee. Under his tutelage, scouts have earned new badges and teachers have received grant money for new science gear in their classrooms.
Now, the word is out about the outstanding community service Whitelaw has contributed during his 16 years at East Tennessee State University, as he is among the faculty/staff recipients of the 2019 Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award.
“I started doing this because school budgets are small for science and teachers,” said Whitelaw, professor of Geosciences and director of the Honors-In-Discipline Scholars Program. “I thought I could go for a day and provide something that is a bit more hands-on because it’s far better to handle the material than to talk about it.”
For over 25 years, individuals in higher education across Tennessee have been recognized for outstanding community service and in 1997, the awards were named for the late Representative Harold Love, Sr., who was instrumental in passing the legislation to establish the awards for students, faculty and staff at public and private two- and four-year institutions. Each recipient receives a cash prize of $1,000 awarded at the Harold Love Awards Reception in Nashville annually.
Whitelaw and his late wife, Julie, a geophysicist, were involved in early efforts to determine the aerial extent of the Gray Fossil Site.
“My wife came from an environment where there weren’t a lot of educational opportunities,” Whitelaw said. “I’ve seen so many situations like that and it seemed like I had an opportunity to give back and make a difference. It plays perfectly with my passion for science and if I can go out and get students to have fun, that’s cool, but if I get them to have fun while learning, then that’s even better.”
He brings rock and mineral displays to the classroom, many created with the assistance of student volunteers from ETSU’s Geosciences Club, and puts students on a platform that lets students simulate earthquake energy which can be recorded in the classroom environment for them to see.
“Wow – to see their eyes light up. It’s great. You never know what kids are going to say.”
Being visible in the community has allowed Whitelaw to meet individuals with interesting rock and mineral collections and form partnerships with organizations like the Gem and Mineral Clubs in Knoxville and Kingsport. Whitelaw also leads field trips with ETSU students locally, across the country and around the world, although he says the “outdoor labs” in the region are some of the best “you could ever wish for.”
His outreach efforts are also a fruitful recruiting tool. He now has students in classes at ETSU who remember him visiting their elementary classroom years earlier.
“Through these learning opportunities I hope the young ones will get excited about
studying geology and will come to ETSU. It’s never too soon to begin planting that