Faculty and alumni share their fondest memories of MSJ geology professor, Dr. Richard Davis for his impact and dedication to the University since 1994 through both classroom and outdoor experiences.

Dr. Davis standing with his wife, mary in front of mountains

Delivering lectures in an animated and engaging manner with infectious enthusiasm and a boisterous voice, Professor Emeritus and Geologist Dr. Richard Davis, Ph.D. retiree at Mount St. Joseph University made the study of geology unforgettable.

The Mount celebrates the end of his dedicated journey of Professor Emeritus this year, after 18 years to the Mount before his retirement in August, 2012. He joined in January, 1994.

According to Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Meg Riestenberg, Dr. Davis was happiest outdoors where he could teach students how to see, measure, and interpret geology for themselves. Students learned from him how to closely inspect and appreciate our local bedrock, and to especially pay attention to the fossils that make Cincinnati such a great place for paleontologists, both amateur and professional. In fact, Dr. Davis wrote two books that for years have taught "rock hounds" about the fossilized organisms that are so abundant in our rocks, including “Cincinnati Fossils,” and “Fossils of Ohio” (as a co-author).  

Dr. Davis was a fellow colleague to Dr. Riestenberg, and she comments on how his knowledge on fossils prepared her in geology studies for her future schooling. “It was through Richard Davis that I first was introduced to our fossils, many years ago before I went to graduate school,” she says. “This knowledge helped to focus my interests to include geology at UC. Life-altering learning!”

Dr. Davis Embarks on Enriching Offsite Geology Adventures

Through knowledgeable storytelling combined with an enthusiasm for all things geology, Dr. Davis integrated professionalism and passion into his historical offsite experiences with students.

One of Riestenberg’s favorite experiences that demonstrates Richard's joy in teaching was through their trips to Mammoth Cave National Park as part of his Natural History of National Parks course. He had spent a lot of time in caves in his early years, and was very interested in the history and geology of cave systems.

Dr. Davis told the unbelievable (but true) story of one of Kentucky's most famous cave explorers, Floyd Collins who was trapped in a cave in the 1920s and passed away, now part of Mammoth Cave National Park. After many attempts to extricate him, and with lots of reporters' interest, Mr. Collins died in the cave. The story goes on, and only Richard can tell it. 

Part of the excitement for students was to actually see the cave where Mr. Collins had passed away, and then go to his gravesite in the evening, when it was pitch dark outside, and to hear Dr. Davis tell more historically accurate, albeit eerie stories.

“Believe me, students will tell stories themselves for many years about the exciting experiences at the national park,” Dr. Riestenberg exclaims. “And they learned about geology as well as they were treated to professional tours of Mammoth Cave, where they heard more about the longest cave in the world! Obviously, Richard Davis loves teaching geology and does so in an animated, truly engaging manner. His enthusiasm is infectious, and has earned him many fans among MSJU alumni and beyond!”

A Beacon to the Region with Cincinnati Fossils: “Do You Know Richard Davis?”

Dr. Gene Kritsky, Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences and Entomologist, describes Dr. Davis as a true gentleman who inspired many of our students to pursue careers in the sciences. His arrival at the Mount enriched the MSJ curriculum with new geology courses, and his prominence spreads far and wide.

“I do not think that many of our students realized how prominent Dr. Davis was in the world of Paleontology,” says Dr. Kritsky. “While on sabbatical at Cambridge University in 2002, [former student] Jessee Smith and I visited the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences on Campus. When the Curator learned we were from Cincinnati, he asked, ‘Do you know Dr. Richard Davis?’”

According to Dr. Kritsky, aside from his excellent teaching, Dr. Davis has been a beacon to the region with his popular “Cincinnati Fossils,” published by the Cincinnati Museum Center. This publication has inspired many people to take pride in our local geology, and to start collecting fossils.

“His lectures were shockingly fun. His booming voice would at first startle the listener, but they never forgot what he said,” recalls Dr. Kritsky.

Alumni Remember and Recall Dr. Davis’s Lively Classroom Contributions

From the standpoint of both a current faculty member and alumna, Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Maria Brown, Ph.D. describes Dr. Davis’s “Intro to Biology” course in 1996 as a larger than life experience. With his bright, white lab coat, the science-themed ties all paired with black shoes, he was the spitting image of what she imagined a "real scientist" would look like, and it was almost impossible to not get caught up in his lectures.

“I still vividly remember one lab when he was reviewing photosynthesis,” says Dr. Brown. “He hopped up on a lab bench to represent the sun, all 6-foot plus of him dancing on the tables. He moved students around as substrates and enzymes to recreate all of the photosynthetic processes. I doubt any of us ever forgot photosynthesis! He truly loved working with students and was an amazing mentor to so many undergraduates. I can only hope to inspire students the way that he did!”

Former student, MSJ alumna Jessee Smith, ‘10 recounts several memories with Dr. Davis’s classroom experience in which she gained skills she still uses today. Her first class with him was Geology of the Tri-State.

“I had always enjoyed collecting fossils as a kid, but Dr. Davis taught me to see geology in new ways, including how to “read” a road cut and how to identify the common stones used in urban construction, particularly building veneers and sidewalks. No visit to any downtown area was the same after his “Building Stones of Cincinnati” field trip. His energetic lectures, peppered with puns and mnemonic devices, made many of the tenets of geology unforgettable.”

Smith enjoyed classes in the sciences so much that she changed her major to General Art and Biology in 1996, and Dr. Davis taught Zoology when she took it the next semester.

“His lab exams often consisted of the deceptively simple questions, 'What is this?' and 'How do you know?' Answering these correctly required more than memorized nomenclature," says Smith. "They encouraged me to learn how to really see the features of an organism (in much the same way that an artist does when drawing a subject), how to synthesize that information, and how to articulate it accurately. Natural history remains an avocation for me, and every time I attempt to identify a creature I’ve seen, I use the same skills that I learned in Dr. Davis’ class.”

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