Thomas Eastler, Ph.D.
Professor - GeologyPh.D., Columbia University
M.A., Columbia University
B.S., Brown University
In the Classroom: Engaging Students — Setting High Academic Expectations
The first day of class is really exciting, according to Tom. He typically puts together a multimedia presentation with a surprise opening designed to capture his students’ attention right from the get-go. One year , for his Environmental Geology class — a course that examines how geology and society impact an environment — Tom came to class dressed in bow hunting gear and argued that hunting and field-dressing one’s fresh kill was a more sustainable and eco-friendly way to acquire protein than shopping for steaks at the local supermarket. And he asked his students to agree or disagree with him. In this manner, he challenged his students to rationally defend what's known as "the Bambi syndrome."
Midway through the semester in that same Environmental Geology course, Tom discussed various political, societal and ethical issues such as the blood diamond trade-where 12-year-old youngsters work to extract diamonds in asbestos-filled mines. Later in the semester, he introduced students to the peak oil crisis — the point within the next ten years when some scientists believe the world’s petroleum reserves will no longer able meet the 84 million barrels of oil consumed worldwide each day (that's 3.528 billion gallons per day).
Such thought-provoking and thoroughly engaging lessons have made Tom Eastler a memorable and favorite professor among students at Farmington. Many of his students affectionately call him "Dr. E." or "Doc Rock," a reference to his Geologist profession as well as his vehicle's license plate. Tom says he’s always happy when students stop in at his office to chat, advise, and guide interested students.
For these reasons and more, Tom Eastler has earned the role as a highly respected and treasured mentor to decades of Farmington students.
Out of the Classroom and into the Woods
Tom says his students do their most of their lab work in the great outdoors. For example, in Environmental Science, Tom and his students will do fieldwork up in the mountains, down in the Sandy River, at a quarry, even at a wastewater treatment plant, and a recycling center.
"We go anywhere we can, weather permitting, all semester long, so my students get a very interesting change from their typical lab experience,” says Tom. “I ask my students to imagine that they are naturalists like Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle on a trip around the world collecting specimens.” Tom’s students photograph and sketch their observations, collect specimens, and document their experiences, building critical thinking skills based on rigorous scientific traditions.
Creating an Individualized Major is Encouraged
“The interdisciplinary program allows students to combine two or more academic programs to create their own major. It’s the best-kept secret here at Farmington. We’ve had it forever, or at least since I came here in 1974. In fact, that’s how we developed our Geology major.” Tom explains.
“Students would come in and say, “Hey Dr. Eastler, I'm really interested in geology, what can I do to get it for a major?” I would say. “You could get a major in Geology/Chemistry, Geology/Geography, Geology/English or any other combination. Eventually we had so many of those requests that we created the Geology major, but we still let students create those individualized programs,” Tom says.
“We only have a few specific degree programs in the Natural Science department, but the interdisciplinary program lets students create the major they want, tailoring it to meet their individual interests. It’s been very successful too. For instance, just about everyone who completed the Geology/Chemistry program here and applied to graduate school was accepted and fully funded,” Tom adds. "Their grad school was fully funded!"
On to the Ivy League — A Tradition of Academic Excellence
Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth and Cornell are just some of the noteworthy graduate schools Tom’s students have attended. Most of these student received full scholarships in the form of teaching and research assistantships. Tom says graduate schools have actually called him looking for more Farmington students. Geologists and engineers with a graduate degree can often start work for an oil company starting with a six-figure salary, he adds.
What Can You Do with a Geology Major and a Great Advisor?
Tom said one of his students received her graduate degree, was hired by Exxon, and struck oil. She eventually became a senior chemist for the U.S. Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C.
Another of Tom’s students when on to Brown University and earned his Ph.D. in Geochemistry. He ended up running a geochemistry lab in Germany. Then he went on to work for the U.S. government at a nuclear facility, and eventually went into private industry. “Last I heard, he designed a paper plant in the Waterville area and took a pay cut to become the plant manager so his family could live in Maine,” Tom adds.
Another Geology student visited Tom as a high school senior with the goals of becoming a college valedictorian and pursuing his interests in agricultural soils. Tom helped him develop an Individualized major in Geology. “He did end up valedictorian, and he was accepted to grad school at Cornell,” Tom says. That student graduated from Cornell with honors and set out to start his own organic composting company, he adds.
Tom has dozens and dozens of stories about his students and keeps touch with many of them after graduation. His Geology students have gone on to become environmental engineers, science teachers, science reporter/writers, and hold positions in government and private industry across the globe.
A Scholar, Soldier and Security Consultant
A retired Air Force officer, Tom is co-authoring a historical perspective of the military use of underground terrain. He has already written many academic papers on how geology impacts military strategy such as the tunnel systems built by the Viet Cong or the limestone caves used as terrorists bases in Afghanistan.
He has also has served as senior consultant for Air Force Armament Laboratory, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other defense agencies. “Topography is now more important as a military consideration than it ever has been on a global scale, and the underground environment may soon challenge outer space as the pivotal battlefield of the future,” according to Tom.
Outside of Academia — Personal Interests and Activities
An avid outdoorsman, Tom and his wife live in a passive solar home on their working 150-acre farm not far from the University. He remains an active advisor to the Farmington 4-H club.
A former U.S.A. World Cup Racewalk coach, Tom has coached college and high school athletes for more than 30 years, including his son who has competed as a racewalker in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Tom was instrumental in helping to develop the racewalking program in the Maine high school outdoor track and field competition schedule. Begun in 1990, the program offers the only high school girls and boys racewalking teams in the United States.
A racewalking advocate, Tom recently published a children's book, Racewalking?! Fun? which teaches young people, their teachers and parents about the value of racewalking.
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