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Sometimes the worst experiences lead to the best results.

Dr. Heather Lehto of the ASU geoscience faculty once almost perished in a lightning storm while installing research equipment on top of an active volcano in Nicaragua. But that didn’t dampen her fascination with volcanoes or technology, or her desire to teach geology.

In fact, she chose ASU in 2012 to be part of a university that focuses on teaching.

“Plus, they had just started the geoscience degree, it was only four years old,” Lehto said. “So it was a really cool opportunity to come in and help build something from the very early stages. That’s not something you normally get to do when you have just earned your Ph.D., so it really worked out, and the department has been amazing to work in.”

Dr. Lehto giving her students a field lecture during a volcanology trip in 2019. Dr. Lehto giving her students a field lecture during a volcanology trip in 2019.Lehto has played her part, building the curriculum for most of her classes and inspiring other faculty by sharing effective learning strategies.

“We don’t want to just give our students a cookie-cutter experience,” Lehto said. “We just think classes are much better when you give faculty the freedom to play to their own strengths. I’m also constantly revamping my courses to keep them current. It’s part of the fun.”

Another part of the fun, which also helped Lehto win ASU’s 2020 President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Teaching, was building and teaching the geoscience program’s first online course. That put her ahead of the game when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the campus.

“Having that experience did help when we transitioned to all-online teaching last spring,” Lehto said. “Plus, I’m pretty tech savvy and I get excited about new technology, so I was more confident than many of the faculty who had never taught online.”

“The working environment at ASU is so great that it’s just not worth it to test out the waters somewhere else.”

There was one big drawback, though, when COVID-19 cost Lehto the chance to lead her trademark class trips to view active volcanoes in New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

“Those trips are my absolute favorite things to do,” Lehto said. “The students get to see geology they never would otherwise because we don’t stay in Texas. They get so excited because everything is new and interesting, and on some trips, they get to talk to professionals who are actually observing and monitoring active volcanoes.”

Dr. Lehto directing her students during their most recent volcanology field trip. Dr. Lehto directing her students during their most recent volcanology field trip.And Lehto hasn’t given up hope that they can get back on the road soon.

“I’m teaching the volcanology class this fall,” she said. “So we’ll see if there is the possibility of a trip. It all depends on how the COVID vaccinations go.”

Not giving up is also an attitude Lehto hopes she imparts to her students.

“Life is going to be tough and you aren’t always going to understand it,” Lehto said. “But you need to keep plugging along until you reach your goals. And if you learn a little geology along the way, then I’ll be pretty pleased with that, too.”