Rick Jones personalizes a Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array buoy with the Billings Senior High School mascot during a Teacher at Sea cruise in 2010. Credit: Rick Jones
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In the early 1980s, when Rick Jones was studying geology as an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, the U.S. oil business was booming. He anticipated a well-paid position following graduation and a stable career as a geologist. Then the oil industry went bust.

“[The economy] changed my trajectory,” said Jones. He was able to find work at companies that did groundwater monitoring, and in the mid-1980s, Jones found himself overseas, working with a nongovernmental organization installing water utilities in refugee camps. He became involved in sanitation education and quickly saw how “a little bit of education can go a long way.” When he came back to the United States, Jones decided to go back to school, getting a second bachelor’s degree in science education as well as a master’s in natural sciences at the University of Wyoming.

His first job after graduation was as a middle school science teacher in Lihue, Hawaii. The experience was eye-opening: “I got to realize really quicky that I had it pretty easy,” Jones said. “I realized that I really need to make sure that I give an opportunity to my students, so that they can definitely go wherever they want to go.”

A family circumstance led Jones and his wife to return to the mainland, to Billings, Mont. There, Jones was a middle and high school teacher for nearly 2 decades, teaching everything from Earth science to biology to physics.

Rick Jones doing field mapping
A field mapping class at the University of Wyoming in 1982 inspired Rick Jones to earn a geology degree. Credit: Rick Jones

“The thing that you’re most proud about when you’re teaching,” Jones said, “is when somebody that you really didn’t think that you connected with comes back and says, ‘It’s because of you that I am a success.’”

Jones has continued to pursue his passion for teaching and learning, both inside and outside academia. He twice participated in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and obtained a doctorate in education from Montana State University.

Jones has since moved back to Hawaii and is now a geoscience educator at the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu. He is also president of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, where he aims to instill a love of learning in the next generation of science teachers.

Find out more about Jones on Twitter (@mtzennmaster), where you can follow his science advocacy as well as see his quilt designs and updates about his 55-year-old Volkswagen convertible, or at his website.

This profile is part of a special series in our September 2021 issue on science careers.

—Jack Lee, Science Writer


Lee, J. (2021), Rick Jones: Finding the high school spirit, Eos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO162250. Published on 24 August 2021.

Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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