Traveling Man

Profile of Derek Elsworth

Talk about a traveler. When the "economy in Britain was in the toilet in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s," says Derek Elsworth, he took a stand-by flight to Canada to find an engineering job. With a bachelor's degree in engineering geology from Portsmouth Polytechnic, and a master's degree in rock mechanics from Imperial College (both schools in England), Elsworth knew that he was marketable. And 24 hours later, he landed a job in Calgary.

After that, Elsworth traveled to the University of California at Berkeley to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering, studying fluids and rocks, nuclear waste disposal, the stability of dams, and energy emitted from hot rocks. From Berkeley, he went back to Canada to work at the University of Toronto. In 1985, Elsworth accepted a job in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State, and he's been here ever since. The University "fits my fancy quite nicely," he says.

In over 15 years of teaching at Penn State, rarely has Elsworth, now professor of energy and geo-environmental engineering, participated in a field trip, other than the occasional trip to a local mine with his mining engineering students. "I remember going in the field and banging rocks with hammers," he says of his own educational experience. The CAUSE 2000 seminar reminded him how important hands-on learning really is.

Elsworth first dove into preparation for his CAUSE seminar in 1998, when the department of geo-environmental engineering merged with the fuel science department. Up to that point in CAUSE history, there had never been an engineering-based CAUSE seminar. Elsworth teamed up with colleague Semih Eser and submitted a proposal to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences for a seminar on energy use.

"I view our roles as quite complementary," says Elsworth. While Eser is interested in fossil fuels and society's understanding of energy use, he continues, "I'm more interested in nuclear energy and renewables."

Eser's experience with discussion-based collaborative learning was a tremendous help for Elsworth because he's never been exposed to that teaching style. "This would have been a disaster without Semih," Elsworth says, chuckling.

"Students clearly got something out of CAUSE 2000 and so did we," he says. CAUSE is an "educational exercise for faculty," as well as for students.

Although the CAUSE students are 10 to 15 years older than his own children, Elsworth felt like a parent as he participated in some of the students' firsts, such as the first time in an airplane, or the first time west of the Mississippi. "You really see people develop in two weeks," he says. "The travel was perfect."

Derek Elsworth, Ph.D, is professor of energy and geo-environmental engineering and associate dean for research in the College of Earth and Mineral Science, 119 Hosler Building, University Park, PA, 16802; (814) 863-1643;

Last Updated May 01, 2000