Geography and Geology Professor Innovates Online Learning
SANTA CLARITA, CA – The COVID-19 pandemic forced many professors to teach from home. But Professor Jeremy Patrich is an adventuring soul. For him, teaching Geography and Geology on a computer screen isn’t enough. So he started to post innovative lectures on YouTube, which led his passion to be shared with thousands of followers across the state, country, and the world.
Patrich teaches full-time at College of the Canyons (COC), where he started as a music major in the early 2000s. When he had to complete his physical science general education requirement, he took a Geography and Geology class with Professor Winston Wutkee. Professor Wutkee was one of the first faculty hired at COC when the college opened in 1969. In his class, he went on a five-day field trip that completely changed his mind.
“I just realized that there’s so much more outside. That was when it clicked for me,” Patrich said. “I could relate the content to an environment — learning about volcanoes, but then going to a volcano. And then I realized that I could have a career out of it, and it really sparked that interest.”
At COC, Patrich completed 120 units before transferring to California State University, Northridge (CSUN) to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degree in Geography. He also got a digital cartography degree at the University of North Dakota and a bachelor’s degree in Geology at the University of Florida.
“A lot of units, a lot of academic background for me,” Patrich said. “That has been very helpful for what I like to teach because I feel as though I’m a forever student. I constantly want to learn. I have, really, an advantage, because I’m almost on the same boat as my students, in the same storm.”
Professor Patrich is not only passionate about learning, but also about teaching. When he first started teaching in 2012, he was teaching at five different colleges at the same time — CSUN, UCLA, Santa Monica City College, Pasadena City College, and College of Alameda. Ever since, he has worked every session and intersession and never had a time-off, because “I love it,” he said.
He also did a field trip for every class he has taught, which adds up to over 55 field trips with 70 to a 100 people on each. Amongst some of the locations for his field trips are the Eastern Sierra, Route 66, the Mojave Desert, and Death Valley. He said he tries to have at least four big trips per semester, because “California has so much to offer. It’s not just Hollywood.”
“I think of my field trips like visiting Disneyland,” Patrich said. “It’s different every time you go depending on who you’re with.”
It was on a Friday when, while on campus, Professor Patrich got the email saying everyone had to pack up and go home. COC professors were given about a week to transfer content to online learning. But he took advantage of that weekend of March 2020 and spent over 30 hours redesigning his Canvas course and recording lectures for his students on his YouTube channel.
“I wanted to create some form of normalcy,” Patrich said. “I really had to ground hard-running.”
Within the first few weeks of the lockdown, he recorded about 70 videos for his students. His YouTube analytics shows that he has people watching his content from all around the world — from places such as Brazil, India, China, Alabama State University, and local colleges in California, such as Santa Monica City College, LA City College, and CSUN.
“The impact is like a droplet of water that I thought that the ripple was just going to affect my bubble and my students,” Patrich said. “But I’m seeing that that ripple has gone on and on.”
He also volunteers every semester to teach for a Senior Living Community called Friendly Valley. One of his lectures was about California architecture designs over the last 150 years. He said since the elderly people grew up in a Queen Anne Victorian home in Los Angeles in the 1940s, “it’s a different student to talk to.”
“For most of us, that’s history,” Patrich said. “But that’s their reality.”
Professor Patrich is known as the “Backyard Geographer.” He said it all started after having to shelter at home, since the farthest he could go was his backyard.
“And then I thought, ‘Oh, well, there’s Geography in my backyard. I can talk about weather, I can talk about climate, I can talk about minerals and rocks, I can talk about soils,’” he said. “In parts of Santa Clarita, where I live, I can find fossilized seashells across the street. We’ve got a tremendous geologic history in our backyards, which we often don’t think about.”
Before the pandemic, homes were usually a place to sleep. Patrich said people didn’t have the time to take advantage of their front yards and backyards.
“It was during the pandemic that I realized that Hummingbirds migrate. I had no idea. I’ve never been home long enough to see a Hummingbird.”
Professor Patrich genuinely cares about his students’ wellbeing. During the beginning of the lockdown, he said he went to buy more ink at Walmart to print class materials and deliver it to his students so they had the resources to be successful. During the first 15 minutes of every class, he reserves the time to talk only about mental health and check up on his students.
“We’re social people, we’re social [living] things,” Patrich said. “Moving completely online and being isolated in your home, you lose that conversation.”
But he managed to work around the isolation obstacle so he wouldn’t lose that conversation with his students and peers. On his YouTube channel, not only does he post classroom lectures, but also “Out in the Field” and “Out of the Collection” videos.
“I can teach almost anything from home if I’m creative enough,” Patrich said.
At the end of the year, he posts the bloopers of the semester and shares it with his students to show them that life is a constant learning process.
“I say, ‘Look, this has been a crazy semester, a crazy six months. This is just letting you know that as many troubles and challenges you may have had, I’m right there with you,’” Patrich said. “This is a learning experience for everyone and we’re all in the same storm, in different boats.”
Professor Patrich is vulnerable and transparent.
“You have to laugh about it,” he said. “There has to be some form of humor that you can pull out, because that makes it so much easier to work through when you can laugh.”
His videos are professional and didactic, covering complex science concepts in an easy way that everyone can understand. He’s also humble about it.
“This isn’t a production from Hollywood. I am a college professor with friends that are trying to put something together to inspire people and to make people feel normal in some way,” Patrich said. “We’re having a heck of a time with it, and it’s been fun.”
Nikki VanBroekhuizen is a videographer and producer who helps Professor Patrich with the creation of his videos. She’s a good friend of his and also a CSUN graduate with a degree in film.
Professor Patrich is not only a man of science, but a man of the fantasy Disney world. His house is home to a huge unique Disney collection that he shares on his “Out of the Collection” series.
“I’m a huge collector of stuff, I’m a huge Disney fan, clearly,” Patrich said. “It’s an appreciation. It’s an appreciation for the art, it’s an appreciation for culture and diversity.”
Professor Patrich said he comes from a long family of antique collectors. He then started his own collection, and he said it took him his whole life to collect all the artifacts he has.
“I can pull anything from the space that’s around me and tell you a story, whether you think it’s interesting or not,” Patrich said. “But it means something to me, it’s a memory.”
His collection goes, however, beyond the Disney world.
“In the garage, I have six map cabinets filled with maps from California back to the 1800s, I’ve got geologic maps, I’ve got hundreds of samples of minerals and rocks that I’ve collected on field trips,” Patrich said. “I can walk out to the garage and I can come back in with a piece of fossiliferous shale that’s got fish in it, and I can talk about it.”
Professor Patrich said the creation of his videos has given him a purpose beyond his academic life.
“I really worked hard to be strong during all of this, especially for my students and for my family,” Patrich said. “It has really helped my soul.”
While Professor Patrich has made the most out of online learning, he’s excited to go back to campus.
Audio, Sammy Fernandes
“If I was able to find the excitement during the pandemic, when that gate is open and we’re able to go out, my possibilities are endless,” Patrich said. “And I’m thrilled about that.”
To learn more about Geography, Geology, and Earth Science, visit Professor Patrich’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/ProfJeremyPatrich.
Video, Prof. Jeremy Patrich
Video, Sammy Fernandes
By Sammy Fernandes
Photo, Sammy Fernandes
Audio, Sammy Fernandes
Video, Jeremy Patrich
Video, Sammy Fernandes