For 30 years, Dr. Jon Mies helped his geology students see the world.
A structural geologist and Robert Lake Wilson Professor of Geology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Mies was the longtime instructor of a course known as Geology Field Experience. After teaching the course during the spring semester, he would take the students on a summer geology experience—alternating between treks to the Basin and Range in the Colorado Plateau at Death Valley and trips outside the country.
“Because of that Southwest trip, I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon probably 16 times,” he said.
By Mies’ count, he accompanied 148 students to Central America or Costa Rica, 163 to the Colorado Plateau, 23 to Scotland and 12 to Spain.
He retired at the end of July after 30 years at UTC and has officially been designated professor emeritus by Chancellor Steven R. Angle. Before retiring, Mies led one last student summer travel experience before passing the torch.
This summer, Mies and Professor of Geology and Associate Department Head Amy Brock-Hon accompanied 12 UTC students to Scotland—considered the birthplace of modern geology. Next spring, Brock-Hon, now the Robert Lake Wilson Professor of Geology, will be leading the Geology Field Experience excursion to the desert Southwest.
“Scotland is the cradle of geology; that’s everyone’s understanding,” Mies said. “The Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century had a huge impact on geology and other disciplines. This trip was a combination of our science’s history and Scotland’s spectacular geology.”
Mies, who previously took a UTC class to Scotland in 2018, said he knew enough about Scotland to lead the expedition but turned over the tour duties to “a couple of locals.”
“I could have done it, but not like they do it,” he said. I joke about it, but I just don’t have the accent and it’s not the same. They throw in so much knowledge of their culture and their people.”
Mies came to UTC in 1993 after holding a research position at the Alabama Geological Survey, where he conducted structural and petrologic studies of the crystalline rocks in Alabama. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina.
In addition to his work at UTC, he also spent several weeks each summer teaching at the University of Missouri’s Branson Field Laboratory geology field camp in Wyoming.
The trip to Scotland included visits to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Siccar Point, the Culloden battlefield, Glencoe, the Three Sisters, and many other stops.
“I was really impressed with the way that on the trip, not only did we get geology, but we were talking about the history of our science,” Brock-Hon said. “To see how these big ideas developed and the places that they happened was huge for me—and the student impact was enormous.”
Brock-Hon admitted she was as wide-eyed as the students on the trip—as it was her first international experience. She was co-instructor on the desert Southwest trip in 2022.
“There are pictures of the places that we went to that we see in our textbooks, and when we were there, I was nerding out,” she said with a laugh. “When I posted pictures on Facebook, all my geology friends were commenting. They were like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
In particular, Brock-Hon said, she and the students went to “seminal locations where big ideas in geology were solidified, such as Siccar Point.”
Siccar Point is a famous geological site on the southeast coast of Scotland. It is renowned for its clear exposure of an unconformity known as Hutton’s Unconformity— named after Scottish geologist James Hutton. The site played a crucial role in shaping geologists’ understanding of Earth’s history and the concept of deep time.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Siccar Point, which is the classic picture in our book,” said Brock-Hon, who joined the UTC faculty in 2010. “When I show images of rock formations and geometries that help us understand what’s happened, my lifetime teaching goal is to replace all textbook photos with my own before I retire. Being able to be there and do that at Siccar Point was breathtaking.
“I think when you see it for yourself, and see the geometry of the rocks, the landscape, and kind of retell the history of that development, then you fully understand it.”
Chattanooga native Andrew Gamble received a bachelor’s degree in geology from UTC in 2011. A lover of sports and various outdoor activities, especially kayaking, he tragically passed away at 31 in 2019. To commemorate his life and legacy, his parents Brent and Gayle Gamble, along with family and friends, established the Andrew Gamble Memorial Travel Fund to support Biology, Geology and Environmental Studies students participating in the annual Geology Field Experience. Through this fund, students will get the opportunity to explore the local creeks, streams and mountains that Andrew loved. To support the Andrew Gamble Memorial Travel Fund and help provide this experience to even more students, you can make a gift at give.utc.edu/andrewgamble.
Geology major Quillen Thornton, a senior from Lenoir City, Tennessee, said the trip to Scotland was his first travel abroad experience—and surpassed expectations.
“The people were amazing; everyone was nice and friendly and they’re really happy to talk to you and share their stories,” Thornton said. “They have a rich history and love telling you about it.
“From a geology standpoint, modern geology was revolutionized during the Scottish Enlightenment. So just being there, you start to understand why it was revolutionized. Everything is so pronounced and clear; you can just walk down the road and see something very important in modern geology.”
Other students on the trip included Amber Newbille, Sera Thomas, Jared Stein, Madison Thompson, Caden Powers, Hunter Benson, Steve Smith, Dakota Bell, Robert McCaleb, Evan Ritchey and Isaac Thompson.
Thornton said having Mies lead the exposition was “absolutely incredible.”
“He’s just so knowledgeable and I was able to pick up things from him that I never would have noticed,” Thornton said. “In geology, there are certain things you can miss if you don’t have the field experience, little niche things in the rock—like a layer probably about a centimeter thick that you would probably not even pay attention to. But having someone who’s had all that experience and so wise to that, and being able to help guide you through it … he was able to help paint a picture of all that happened in that area.”
After 30 years of leading study abroad experiences, don’t expect Mies to sit around in retirement.
“My wife (Heidi) and I are traveling soon,” he said with a laugh. “In fact, we’re heading out west in September.”