Victor Guevara is an assistant professor of geology. He completed his undergraduate studies at Middlebury College, holds a master’s degree from the University of Montana and a doctorate degree from Virginia Tech.
Q: What was your first encounter with the study of geology and what drew you to the subject?
A: My first encounter with the study of geology was my second year of college. I was just browsing through the course catalogue and a friend of mine told me that he was interested in taking a geology class, and I was kind of at a loss for what class to take for my first class. I was just looking through the geology course catalogue and I saw a class — it was called Dynamic Earth — and I said, “That sounds pretty cool.” I started looking through more and more of the geology course catalogue and saw what their upper-level courses were like and looked at their course descriptions and said, “Hm, I never thought of that before. That’s pretty neat.” So I took that geology class, and that was the fall of my second year. Where I went to school, we had to declare our major by the end of our second year. I was running out of time and so that spring I was really struggling to decide what I wanted to study, and I was down between physics and psychology, as it goes. My dorm where I was living had a nice view of the Adirondack Mountains across Lake Champlain to the west. I was looking out to the view and starting to wonder why there are mountains over there. I just started to go down this wormhole on the internet researching why the Adirondack Mountains are the way they are. It was this eureka moment when I was like, “I should study geology.” It hadn’t even occurred to me because I was like — “Physics? Psychology?’” At that moment, I was like, “I should do geology.” I dropped everything and walked over to the major registrar's office, pulled out a major registration form and got it signed the next day. I found it in college but I didn’t know I wanted to be one until I was one. I guess it shows you the power that a liberal arts education can do for you. If I had gone to a school where I had to declare a field of study before I even entered, that definitely wouldn’t have happened.
Q: What has been your experience as a faculty member so far?
A: It has been great. I feel very supported both by my colleagues and by the students. The students are really a joy to teach, at least so far. I’m not just saying that to sound good for course reviews. I’ve just been having a lot of fun this last week and a half. Students have been asking really good questions and they’re also really engaged. As a faculty member, I really appreciate when my students are engaged in the material and want to learn as much as I want to teach them.
Q: What were you doing before you came to Amherst?
A: The two years before I came here, I was an assistant professor at Skidmore College in the geosciences department. Before that, I was a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech.
Q: Can you tell me about the classes you are teaching at Amherst?
A: Right now, I’m teaching GEOL-111, which is called Principles of Geology, an introductory geology course where we try to learn about different types of rocks that the earth is made of. At the culmination of the course, we try to interpret the story and the history of the earth based on what the rocks are made of. In the future, I’m planning to teach a course in mineralogy, looking at minerals and rocks, what the earth is made of from the atomic to the global scale. And then another course called Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, which delves into the formation of igneous and metamorphic rocks and what the formation tells us about Earth's dynamic geological processes. Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology is going to be taught next semester, and Mineralogy is going to be taught next fall.
Q: What do you hope students will take away from the courses you teach?
A: I hope students can appreciate the earth and understand how processes that occur in the earth — geological processes — occur over a variety of length scales. From the atomic scale to the global, how the processes that occur over the atomic scale are manifested and how are they influenced over a planetary scale. Not only being able to understand how the earth works on different length scales, but also on time scales. Humans are really used to thinking about the present: what happened a day ago, what happened a month ago, what happened 100 years ago. Geologists think about things that happened either a few seconds ago, all the way up to four billion years ago. I want students to understand one: how the earth works along various different length scales, and along various different time scales that span many orders of magnitude. I study the solid earth — that’s my expertise, rocks, basically — and I want students to be able to link how the solid earth affects processes that occur in other spheres of the earth: the biosphere, the atmosphere and so on.
Q: What is your current research and how did you become interested in it?
A: My research is in metamorphic petrology, which in plain language is the study of how rocks get hot. How do rocks get from 600 degrees Celsius to 1000 degrees Celsius? Ultimately, rocks get hot because of plate tectonic processes. However, we can’t really drill down into an active plate boundary and study what’s happening to these rocks as they get hot, what’s happening to the physical chemical changes that occur to them as they get hot. I study exhumed metamorphic rocks from ancient plate tectonic boundaries to try to understand what is happening in parts of the earth that we cannot access right now.
Q: Where in the world would you most like to travel to conduct research and why?
A: I’m working on these rocks from the Pakistan Himalaya. They were collected in 1994 during a slightly different geopolitical configuration. Right now that part of the world is inaccessible to geoscientists for political reasons. There are some really fascinating things there but obviously that’s not a place I can really go. That’s a place that I really wish I could study.
Q: What would you want to major in if it wasn’t geology?
A: Art history. A geologist reads the history of earth through the record left behind in rocks. An art historian reads the record of human history left behind in art. They are very similar lines of thinking.
Q: When you are not teaching at Amherst, what do you do in your free time?
A: The most prominent hobby I have is spending time with my dog Jordie. He’s a golden retriever mix. One of these days I’ll bring him to the office. I have him registered. I enjoy taking [Jordie] for runs, mountain biking on the trails along Amherst and a little bit of rock climbing and just spending time outside.