Geography professor Doug Faulkner wins Faculty Mentor Award

Faulkner emphasizes the importance of learning through doing

Kyra Price

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December 5, 2022
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Faulkner works with students to prepare them to take over the research process.

Dr. Douglas Faulkner, a geography professor at UW-Eau Claire, was recently awarded the 2022 Faculty Mentor Award by the Geosciences Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Faulkner began his undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, then continued it at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

He worked on his graduate degree at UW-Madison and went on to receive his Ph.D. from UW-Madison.

Faulkner said he loved learning and was fortunate to have much of his education paid for through scholarships.

As a young kid, Faulkner said he fell in love with maps. In the fifth grade, he was given an atlas from his older brother as a Christmas present.

In the seventh grade, Faulkner received a National Geographic magazine and said that was when he knew he wanted to be a geographer.

Faulkner primarily teaches physical geography — both introductory and upper-level courses – relating primarily to water and rivers.

His specialization is in rivers and the landforms they create, conservation of the environment and human environmental geography.

Faulkner is a geomorphologist, and his focus in Eau Claire is the Chippewa River and how it has evolved over the last 20,000 years, creating the landscape that exists today.

He works with students with or without previous research experience. He said he likes to introduce students to the research process, more through doing than talking, and teaches them what to do with and how to analyze the data they find.

He said that when seeking the answer to a question with a student, he often does not know the answer.

“We’re investigating together,” said Faulkner. “It’s a collaboration.”

Faulkner said that while he is the original dominant force in the research process, he tries to help students to take it over.

“(I hope) that they can be more than just receivers of knowledge, they can be creators of knowledge,” he said.

Faulkner said he hopes his students can come up with things people have not before, and that they have the sense of confidence that that is something they are capable of doing.

Faulkner said one of his favorite mentoring stories is with one of his former mentees who is now a professor at the University of Minnesota-Mankato.

The two collaborated on a project about the geomorphic history of the Chippewa River. After Faulkner’s former mentee came back from finishing his Ph.D., they collaborated again.

They wrote a paper with Faulkner as the lead and his former mentee second, and won paper of the year through the Geomorphology Specialty – Group American Association of Geographers

Faulkner said his 2022 Faculty Mentor Award was totally unexpected.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d get an award like this,” he said.

Faulkner said that this was an award given not just to him, but to a lot of people.

“I see it also as an award to my colleagues in my department,” said Faulkner. “I guess I see it as an award to all those students who did research with me.”

Dr. Garry Running has worked with Faulkner for years. He is retired, but comes back to work with Faulkner and his colleagues.

Running said, “My wife thinks that I’m failing at retirement because I still want to work with Doug and the rest of the colleagues.”

Running went to graduate school with Faulkner at UW-Madison, and both found job openings at UW-Eau Claire years later.

Running started by studying archaeology, but said he realized he was just as interested in what they were digging through as what they were digging up. This led him to major in geology.

Running said Faulkner is welcoming and kind, and that he really likes his students.

“Well, first of all, he’s a genius. He has the skill, but also the heart to bring complex issues to where students can feel comfortable contributing to ideas about those things,” said Running.

Running said one of his favorite memories with Faulkner is when they were working on a research project with a group of students on sand dunes in Eau Claire County.

Running said they were out in the field collecting samples when Faulkner came out wearing all beige and the “doofiest” hat.

Running said that the students started calling Faulkner “GanDoug the Beige.”

He said the students liked to give Faulkner different names, and that they felt comfortable doing that. He said Faulkner was always cheerful and communicated with the others, making sure they were okay.

“We don’t train students,”  said Running. “We prepare future colleagues.”

Price can be reached at [email protected]