William & Mary geologist Nicholas Balascio will receive the Outstanding Faculty Award, the commonwealth’s highest honor for instructors at Virginia’s institutions of higher education, public and private.
Twelve faculty from across the state will receive the honor during a ceremony hosted by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia on March 9, 2020, in Richmond. According to a SCHEV press release, nominees are identified by their institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers and selected by a committee of representatives from the public and private sectors. This year, 85 faculty were nominated for the awards. With 45 faculty recognized since 1987, W&M has received more Outstanding Faculty Awards than any other college or university in the state.
Balascio was designated a “Rising Star,” a category limited to young faculty, serving between three and six years of service. Award guidelines note that the category recognizes those demonstrating extraordinary promise in their early academic careers. Rising Stars are also judged against the areas applied to other Outstanding Faculty candidates — teaching, discovery, knowledge integration and service.
“Nick has hit the ground running, publishing triple the number of papers and snagging an order of magnitude more in federal funding than the average assistant professor. There is clearly nothing average about Nick,” wrote Geology Professor and Chair Rowan Lockwood, in nominating Balascio for the award. “His research, which brings together scientists from at least five different countries, truly spans the globe. Nick has put William & Mary, and the commonwealth in general, on the map for climate research.”
It’s the second year in a row for a member of William & Mary’s Department of Geology to win the honor coordinated by the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia. Lockwood was a member of the 2019 class of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty. Balascio, an assistant professor, becomes the fourth William & Mary geologist to be so honored, as Jerre Johnson, professor emeritus, and Heather Macdonald, chancellor professor, both received the award in 1991 and 2003, respectively.
Balascio joined William & Mary in 2015, the first climate scientist in the geology department. He specializes in Arctic paleoclimatology, studying the effects of climate change at some of the areas most vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet.
Many students report becoming hooked on earth sciences after taking a Balascio course, declaring a geology major almost to their own surprise. But Balascio says virtually all of his William & Mary geology colleagues report similar conversion stories.
“I think it's common that people think of geology as purely rocks and minerals, and I think most of us dispel that very early on in our geology classes here,” he said. “We emphasize that it's not that's not all we do.”
In addition to teaching, Balascio is an immensely active researcher. He has done an extraordinary amount of fieldwork, ranging from Lake Matoaka on the William & Mary campus to Easter Island to Greenland. He regularly includes students in his research, and some of his publications include undergraduate co-authors. Balascio often takes students on his research trips to far-flung sections of the globe.
“I co-led a William & Mary field course with Professor Balascio to Arctic Norway in May 2017, and got to see him teach in the field — sometimes under difficult conditions,” wrote Chuck Bailey, a William & Mary colleague. “He is an outstanding teacher, and the students find his approach to science rewarding. This was an interdisciplinary trip, and Professor Balascio was equally adept at discussing such disparate topics as geomorphology and Viking history.”
A number of former students submitted encomiums in support of the Outstanding Faculty nomination. They were as effusive about Balascio as his faculty colleagues and noted his virtues as an instructor as well as a research mentor.
“Working with Dr. Balascio during my time at William & Mary, without a doubt, not only made me a better geoscientist, but a better member of the scientific community,” wrote James Van Hook ’18, who did field work with Balascio on Easter Island and now is a master's student in geosciences at Colorado State University.