Chris Paola

Professor, School of Earth Sciences

Chris Paola, balding, goatee, large glasses, holds a topographical map.

Graduate students flock to Chris Paola's classes for the simiple reason that they find them fascinating. Outside the classroom, his students learn even more valuable lessons from Paola—like how to work independently and with integrity.

"At the end of my Ph.D., Chris told me that everything he knew about my research topic he learned from me," says a former student. "These words could not have made me feel any prouder."

"Chris is a strongly principled individual," adds another. "Most notably, he is unwaveringly respectful of ideas—that most vulnerable form of intellectual property."

I view graduate education as a kind of apprenticeship—a bit like the way the famous Renaissance instrument shops around Cremona are supposed to have run: The apprentice was done when he had made three fiddles of sufficient quality.

An expert in how Earth continually reshapes its surface, Paola took a lead role in establishing a unique certificate program in stream restoration. He also created a student and faculty exchange program between the U of M and the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, and as director of both the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and, especially, the NSF-funded National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics, he has launched strong mentoring programs.

The result is a growing roster of stellar former graduate students.

"Chris triggered in me a career-long desire to distill simplicity from nature's complexity," notes one. "This search for fundamental insight—and his desire to instill the same ideal in his graduate students—is apparent in his publication record, which is well-stocked with truly seminal works."