January 13, 2020
Jacobs Retires after 32 Years of Service
In 1987, Dr. Alan Jacobs stood in front of a Carnegie Mellon CEE class for the first time, sharing his geology expertise with Dr. Paul Christiano’s Foundation Engineering course. Each year and under different professors, Jacobs returned to speak, even after moving from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Youngstown, Ohio. Eventually, that geology course module evolved into a full course offered twice a year at CEE and taught by Jacobs and James Kilburg in alternating semesters. Now, after 33 years of service, Jacobs is retiring from the CEE Department, grateful for the experiences he’s had here and the joy he’s gained from teaching.
“Being amidst young people keeps me young,” says Jacobs, who continues to serve on the faculty at Youngstown State University in Ohio, where he has taught geology and environmental science since 1996. There, Jacobs also researches water and air pollution, reviews manuscripts for journals, and has published three textbooks and two geo-environmental novels. He has also served as a department chair.
Jacobs’ geology career began in 1967 with the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. In 1974, he moved to Pittsburgh, where he joined D’Appolonia Consulting Engineers and later worked with the IT Corporation as well as Paul C. Rizzo Associates. His work took him to faraway places such as Korea, Pakistan, Sweden, Italy, Venezuela, and the Middle East. Jacobs earned his PhD in Geology and Ecology at the University of Indiana - Bloomington in 1967.
At Carnegie Mellon, Jacobs’ courses were always interactive. He shared stories, photographs, and geological samples from the field—including a lava rock that was taken from Hawaii and thus, according to legend, cursed by the Hawaiian goddess Pele. Before exams, he would write and perform rhyming lyrics to hip-hop beats to help students learn the material. He led students around campus to look at building stones and a survey benchmark monument used in geodetic and land surveying. He took students on trips to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, local construction sites and coal mines, geologic structures in Appalachia, and even conglomeratic joint blocks containing ice caves in Ohio.
“To me, teaching has to be more than just giving lectures. I spent a lot of time learning about geology out in the real world, so, naturally, I brought those things to my role as a CEE instructor,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed Carnegie Mellon for so many reasons. I feel at home here, and I will miss being in Pittsburgh and being in this department.”
CEE Department Head Dave Dzombak presented Dr. Jacobs with a special recognition at a faculty gathering in January. In thanking him, Dzombak says "Alan has brought his deep knowledge and expereince base in geology to generations of Carnegie Mellon CEE students. We are most grateful to him for his long-time association with our department."