Bruce Goetz, retired professor of geoscience, was recently awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by Northland College.
“When I heard that my colleagues had voted for that and approved that unanimously, I was just humbled,” Goetz said. “For a faculty member, it’s the highest honor you can get.”
Goetz retired from Northland College in 2016.
The decision to award Goetz the status of Professor Emeritus began with a nomination from a former colleague. It then moved its way through campus administration all the way to the top.
“It went to the dean and the president and the board,” said Goetz, mentioning that the board only meets a couple times a year.
The official letter from Northland College President Mike Miller notifying Goetz of the college decision was dated March 13, 2017.
“It’s probably the highest academic honor that a faculty member can receive no matter where you are,” Goetz said. “Very few people achieve that or are awarded that.”
Goetz said he came to Northland in 1969, right at the beginning of environmental awareness.
“Over the years at Northland I was able to … change the curriculum at the college in real positive ways,” Goetz said.
He said that if you had ideas about new curriculum that met the mission of the school and things worked out, the school was open to them.
“That’s one thing about Northland that I thought was really cool,” Goetz said. “After my first year, I wrote the environmental studies curriculum at the college and within a few years the college became an environmental liberal arts college, which is amazing.”
According to Goetz, he helped start a number of programs like Outdoor Ed, Meteorology, Natural Resources, and GIS (Geographic information systems).
“I got to help start all those curriculum and that’s an amazing thing as a faculty member,” Goetz said. “Usually you teach, you do your research and your career’s your career. But at Northland, the opportunity to effect those kinds of changes was just huge.”
Throughout his 47 years at Northland, Goetz said he got to see many things change and evolve at the college because they were very open minded to suggestions from the faculty like himself.
“And that change continues,” Goetz said.
Due to the calendar at Northland, Goetz said as part of his professorship he was able to take students on extended trips over the spring term.
“I started that back in 1972,” he said, explaining that he took the students on these trips so they could actually see these amazing geological features and experience places that they normally wouldn’t go. “I’ve been to Hawaii nine times with students, the American Southwest, probably that many, hiked the Appalachian trail, I went to Mexico with them, the Pacific Northwest … all those really cool places geologically.”
Goetz said that his favorite trips included the Teton Range Mountain range in Wyoming, the lava flows in Hawaii and of course, the Grand Canyon.
“I’ve rafted it, I’ve hiked it, I’ve spent time in it,” he said, mentioning that the geology and immensity of the Grand Canyon make it one of the most amazing places to see. “The Grand Canyon is immense. To look across it, you’re looking at miles. You look up or down the valley, you’re looking at miles.”
The trips were a lot of work but Goetz said it was worth it as it brought him great satisfaction to see the look on a student’s face the first time they saw a mountain, for example.
“They’re like kids in a candy store,” he said. “I always said what mattered to me most as a faculty member is helping students to learn and understand as much as I did, but to try and instill in them a desire to learn more, even beyond what I could tell you and help you learn … Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate.”
Goetz reiterated that he feels humbled to have received the status and is immensely proud of what he did in his career for the students and for the college.
“I think I had a really positive influence on the students, which as a professor is what you want to do,” he said. “You want to have a positive influence on young people and open their eyes and help them learn how to see things and think critically about what they’re seeing or looking at or question. And that’s the one thing about Northland that kept me there for sure. I wanted to do that and I was able to do that.”
Goetz said he was one of the lucky individuals who were able to find their dream job as teaching at the college never felt like work to him.
“When I was in high school, one of my teachers asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated and I told them ‘I want to be a college professor’ and I got to do that,” he said. “I had an amazing career and I loved what I did.”
While he may have retired from Northland College, Goetz is still able to share his love of geology and passion for teaching through Reel Island Adventures, which Goetz co-owns and operates with Scott Braden.
Reel Island Adventures offers guided fishing trips, water taxi services and custom tours throughout the Apostle Islands region of Lake Superior. To learn more visit them online at reelislandadv.com or like them on Facebook at Reel Island Adventures.
Goetz concluded that he couldn’t have seen himself anywhere else.
“I was able to help students learn about the things that I love,” Goetz said mentioning that the very last class he taught was a kind of field oriented class about the geology of the Apostle Islands. “Right up to the end I was happy to see students learning and being enthused.”