Cathy Grace rocks: Beloved geology professor retires

Posted on Apr 13 2017 - 8:01am by Trenton Scaife, Briana Florez
Photo by Xinyi Song

Photo by Xinyi Song

Geology professor Cathy Grace is well-known on campus for her excited, musical approach to teaching the sciences. Grace will retire this spring and said she plans to travel the country after her 22 years of hard work at the university.

Grace has a relaxed teaching method, which makes her a favorite among students. Her lectures always begin with a song that correlates with the topic being discussed in class. One day, Queen’s “Under Pressure” prepared the full lecture hall for a presentation on movement below the Earth’s surface.

She is known as “geology mom” to graduate student Peshani Heran. Heran said compared to other professors, Grace’s teaching style offers a bit of refreshment.

“She’s very different from other professors I’ve had,” Heran said. “She’s very unique and really cares about her students.”

Aside from being a prominent figure in the geology department among students, Heran said Grace makes an effort to go beyond just her classes and reach out to all students.

“She has this presence where even if she teaches one class, she’s involved in your academic career throughout,” Heran said.

Teaching class only makes up one half of Grace’s geology career at the university, which began in 1993. She spent her first 11 years in the research center and out in the field. Before getting into field work, Grace said she spent a lot of her time on rooftops and in the cabs of semi-trucks.

Grace spent one summer repairing the ceilings of libraries and occasionally working as a librarian. In 1979, she set out to prove that a woman could be a truck driver, despite backlash from people around her.

“Someone said that women couldn’t be truck drivers in 1979, so I had to prove them wrong,” Grace said.

What eventually drew Grace into geology was working outside and looking at rocks up close, rather than sitting far off from the site and looking through a monitor.

“Remote sensing is good, but who wants to be an armchair geologist?,” Grace said.

Her fear of public speaking is what eventually brought her to the classroom.

“I believe in confronting fear, and I thought that would be a good way to get over it,” Grace said.

Geology professor Robert Holt has known Grace since 2000 when she joined the Mineral Research Institute as an office manager. Holt said over the years, he and Grace have become more like siblings than coworkers. He still remembers how Grace slowly but surely brought him and other Geology professors into the Ole Miss football fold with her extra season tickets. Holt said he and Grace watched one game together, which turned into many, and eventually Grace lured enough geology and engineering faculty to the Grove to form their own game day tent.

“I don’t have a sister, so I’ve been calling her ‘sister’ for years, and she’s been calling me ‘bro’ for a long time,” Holt said.

Grace said she plans to visit areas like Vancouver, British Columbia and Maine during her retirement, often sleeping on former students’ couches along the way.

Heran said it will be a bittersweet moment to see the beloved professor leave. On one hand, she’s happy to know Grace will be out doing everything she has wanted to do, but it also means the person Heran considers “the geology mom” will no longer be strolling through the geological engineering department.

“She has a big personality and a big heart, and I think we’re all going to miss that,” Heran said.