Steve Hendersons field trips would make a travel agent green
with envy. Over the past two years, Henderson has escorted students
to the Rocky Mountains, Big Bend National Park in Texas, the Scottish
highlands and the Bahamas. All in the name of
Making connections is what Henderson, associate professor of geology
at Oxford College, calls his work. While the study of geology is
central to all of Hendersons journeys, geologys relationship
to the world around it is perhaps even more important.
I can show students the connections between geology and everything,
Henderson said. In Texas, we do a lot of connections between
geology and ecology and, to a certain extent, culture. With the
dinosaurs in Colorado and Utah, its geology and paleontology.
I think thats intriguing. So many students wouldnt think
of these connections.
Students will come here and take an English course or a chemistry
course, and put them in these little compartments. I want them to
change their way of thinking and not put classes in compartments,
but to integrate them. Thats so much fun. Its a higher
level of intellectual thinking.
Soft-spoken and laid back, Hendersons passion for his work
and for teaching is still easily apparent. In all of his classes,
he stresses the importance of hands-on activity. Sure, he lectures
like every other professor, but he also is point man for several
hikes in which he leads students across all manner of terrain.
For 10 days in May, Henderson, Anthony Martin, senior lecturer
in environmental studies, and nine students ventured about Colorado
and Utah, visiting museums, hiking in national parks and checking
out a variety of fossil sites.
The highlights of the class, Dinosaurs in Their World,
Henderson said, were trips to see fossilized dinosaur tracks, which
make the creatures more real for the students, and sites where dinosaur
bones were still embedded in rock.
You can take students to a museum and show them a mounted
dinosaur skeleton, Henderson said. Thats all well
and good. But the students dont appreciate the fact that the
bones came out of the earth. Once they see the rocks with bones
in them, its different.
Hendersons Texas course, which he has taught every other
year since 1987, grew out of a class entitled Desert Biology. The
first couple times he led it, he called it Desert Geology and Biology,
but Henderson eventually dropped the latter designation since it
wasnt his specialty. But that doesnt mean he narrowed
What I try to do with the course, Henderson said, speaking
specifically about Texas, but the thought can be applied to all
his classes, is to put a little variety in it every time.
So he may take students down different trails or perhaps show them
to different sets of dinosaur tracks. One time, he took his desert
geology class not to Big Bend but to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.
The course will be taught once again next year.
Hendersons travels arent limited to the United States.
He traveled to Scotland last summer with anthropology assistant
professor Mark Auslander. Their course, Geology and Culture of Scotland,
explored how the land affected life in Scotland. Fifteen Oxford
students spent two weeks there and the class was a great success.
Next year Henderson plans to change up the course a bit. Joining
him will be Oxford Assistant Professor of English Christine Loflin.
They will lead the course on geology and English literature.
The thought is that we would read some of the works in advance,
he said. Works that are related to the place. The story is
set in Scotland, and the Scottish place has a distinctive role in
In the Bahamas, students in Martins and Hendersons
Modern and Ancient Tropical Environments (the course is listed under
environmental studiesMartin is the lead professor) spent time
not only comparing the island chains rocks from different
time periods, but also snorkeling and a lot of hiking. Previous
classes were responsible for hacking trails through the Bahamian
jungle, and those trails are used frequently today.
Hendersons current paper sprung from his Bahamian work. He
and Martin, a frequent collaborator, are collaborating on a piece
investigating how hurricanes have transported shells throughout
the island, sometimes depositing them hundreds of meters from their
Henderson remembers the exact moment he became interested in geology.
In third grade, he was on the playground at school and he found
a rock with two seashells embedded in it.
He showed it to his teacher and asked her what it was. She said
it was a fossil.
Anyone who has been around third graders for any length of time
can predict young Steves next question.
What does that mean?
Go read about it, was the reply.
So I found every book I could on fossils, Henderson
said, recalling the incident. Not necessarily on dinosaurs.
They were neat, but I liked the little things, too. From the time
I was in third grade, thats what I wanted to do. I was amazed
such things existed.
A native of New Jersey, Henderson earned bachelors and masters
degrees in geology at Indiana University and worked for three years
as a petroleum geologist in Oklahoma. When he began pursuing a Ph.D.
in the subject at the University of Georgia, he got hooked on teaching.
Henderson got his doctorate in 1984, joined Oxfords faculty
in 1985 and has been there ever since.
Hendersons latest research mixes geology with yet another
social sciencehistory. Specifically, Henderson is studying
geology and the Civil War. In Georgia, for instance, geology played
a major role in the Confederacys defensive plans as the Union
army marched south from Tennessee.
The troops of Gen. Joseph Johnston occupied the high ground (which
was made up of harder rocks), while Gen. William T. Shermans
Union troops had to march through the more dangerous valleys.
What we found is that Sherman and Johnston had to follow
this regional geology, Henderson said. If you look at
one battle after another, starting in Chattanooga, you find that
the Confederates occupied the high ground and the Union army went
Henderson also has lectured on the battles of Chickamauga and Vicksburg.
In the case of the latter battle, he has taken students to the battle
site on a side trip during the trek to Big Bend for his desert geology
Since hes not going to Scotland this summer, Hendersons
next few months will be pretty calm. He plans to work on his Bahamian
paper and do some other catching up, but he will be far less harried
than he is during the academic year.
One of his main activities, in fact, will be shuttling his 12-year-old
daughter Sarah back and forth from gymnastics (Hendersons
wife Kathryn, also a geologist, teaches middle school in Newton
That keeps me busy, Henderson said of his chauffeur