New Montgomery fellow specializes in geomorphology

by Frances Cohen | 11/3/16 12:30am

This fall’s Montgomery Fellow, University of Washington environmental science professor David R. Montgomery, who is of no relation to the program’s benefactors, recently began his term at the College. He specializes in geomorphology, the study of the evolution of various planets’ topographic features and is a recent recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant.

David Montgomery refers to himself as a “geomorphology generalist,” working across disciplines within geomorphology. He does, however, maintains a focus on fluvial geomorphology.

As both a scientist and a writer of several popular science books, Montgomery’s work in multiple disciplines appealed to the Dartmouth community.

Montgomery’s published work includes award-winning book “The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood,” which explores the relationship between faith and science, looking across landscapes and cultures. He also co-authored a book with his wife, biologist Anne Biklé, titled “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health,” which focuses on the role of microbes in transforming the way we see nature and ourselves.

While at the College, Montgomery continues to work on several written projects. He is writing a new introduction for a re-release of “The Living Soil by Lady Eve Balfour,” originally published in 1943. Montgomery is also working on a book of his own to be released next spring about the future of farming, in addition to co-writing several articles with Biklé.

Montgomery said he has especially enjoyed the faculty house visits in which he has been able to participate. Working closely with the newly-launched housing communities, this year’s fellows will participate in intimate visits to house professors’ homes for informal conversations with students, Director of the Montgomery Fellows program Klaus J. Milich said.

With personal interests that span a diverse range of topics — his books have focused on topics from the history of farming to microbes to the relationship between science and religion — Montgomery said he has appreciated the opportunity to speak to small groups of students on these various interests.

The faculty house visits are “a nice supplement to the traditional way we view education in college,” Montgomery said.

He added that he finds that these informal conversations with the professors, whom students normally interact with at “arms-length,” are a great addition to the formal classroom interactions with faculty.

Outside of the classroom, Montgomery has also been playing his music for students and faculty as well as working on new music. He is in two bands: High Noon and Big Dirt.

Montgomery has so far thoroughly enjoyed his time here in Hanover, staying in the Montgomery House with his wife and their dog. He has especially appreciated the opportunity to spend time at a smaller institution compared to University of Washington’s student body population of 40,000.

“It’s a lot more intimate, you can meet people and it’s a lot less hectic than being in Seattle on a huge campus, so it’s a really nice change of pace for me in that regard,” he said.

The Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Endowment was established in 1977 with the aim of bringing distinguished individuals to Dartmouth. These individuals are designated Montgomery Fellows and, staying for various amounts of time, the fellows and their families live in the Montgomery House, overlooking Occom Pond.

Milich said the aim of the endowment is “to bring to campus true luminaries from all walks of life — from literature, from the arts, from music, from politics — and to give our students the opportunity to meet with these luminaries on a formal or informal basis.”

Past fellows include Yo-Yo Ma, William Fulbright, Gerald Ford and John Updike. This year’s fellows include artist Eric van Hove, award-winning actress and performing artist Rhodessa Jones and Booker Prize-winning novelist Salman Rushdie in summer 2017.

The recently re-vamped nomination process for Montgomery Fellows consists of a questionnaire that any member of the Dartmouth community can fill out. Two members of the community must fill out the nomination questionnaire for the same person in order for a candidate to be considered.

Besides the program’s brand new home page and nomination process, Milich said they are trying to vary the length of the residencies of various fellows, adding in more short-term visits.

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