Over the past 20 years, Willis Hames, a professor in Auburn University’s Department of Geology and Geography, has seen his fair share of student athletes in his classroom. He teaches Physical Geology, a large, auditorium-style science class which fills up quickly because it’s open to students from diverse academic curriculums. Last semester, one of his students was Auburn University football star and instant legend, Chris Davis. It was Hames’ class that erupted in a spontaneous standing ovation in honor of Davis on Dec. 2, the Monday following the Iron Bowl; a game which ended with Davis returning Alabama’s missed field goal for a touchdown, bringing Auburn the victory.
Hames recalls the standing ovation and notes there was a feeling of the extraordinary in the air, even before Davis walked into the classroom.
“The morning of Dec. 2 was, in many ways, a routine end-of-term class day: class began at 10 a.m., and we needed to finish discussing data relating to the topic of global climate change and the final exam scheduled for the following week,” said Hames. “It was an extraordinary morning though, because there was a collective feeling by all that we had been through perhaps the most remarkable Iron Bowl in memory, with the reminder that even one second can provide opportunity.
“Chris lingered in the hall before class started - I think out of respect to allow the class to settle down and begin before coming into the room - and entered quietly, taking a seat to a far side of the class. Applause began in the opposite, back of the auditorium, and then swept through the room as students stood to clap and cheer. I was very happy to join the spirit of that moment.
“I did not say much afterward, only a few words to affirm that we had all seen a very special event, and that it is great to be an Auburn Tiger. Then, we got back to class.”
Hames said one of his favorite things about teaching Physical Geology is he gets to teach students like Davis.
“Core classes with large enrollments give a teacher the chance to interact and work with many students and help them learn material that is interesting and challenging. As a professor of geology at Auburn University, I enjoy teaching Physical Geology because it gives me the opportunity to work with many students from diverse backgrounds as they learn about science and the importance of earth's processes and materials,” said Hames. “I find that students who participate in structured extracurricular activities - including athletes, members of various organizations, ROTC students - can be among the most organized about their schedule and the calendar of testing and other events for a class because they have a calendar of their own to keep. That's how I came to meet Chris Davis - I did not know who Chris Davis was, or that he played on the football team, until about the middle of the term when he introduced himself and informed me of some upcoming conflicts between class meetings and his athletic schedule.
“Looking back, Chris' class attendance was great, and I respected the fact that he was a polite, organized and responsible student.”
After spending 20 years as a professor at Auburn, Hames said his favorite thing about the university is the Auburn spirit.
“It’s a special thing to live and work in Auburn,” Hames said, “and this has been a wonderful time for Auburn University. I love to see the success and spirit of this football team, and that day in class is one I will cherish for a long, long time.”
In addition to teaching Physical Geology, Hames is the director of an internationally competitive research lab at Auburn University called the “Auburn Noble Isotope Mass Analysis Laboratory,” which specializes in geological age dating. When he isn’t working, he enjoys traveling and remodeling a home with his wife, serving in his church, building furniture for his daughters, restoring his 1956 tractor and cooking for his friends.
The Department of Geology and Geography is part of Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics. The mission of the College of Sciences and Mathematics is three-fold: to teach by providing an environment that ensures excellence in the biological, physical, and mathematical sciences for the purpose of preserving, interpreting, and conveying existing knowledge; to research by creating, integrating, and applying new knowledge; and to reach out to others by fostering educational exchange within the university, the Alabama community, and society as a whole. For more information, visit the website.