Sharing a Passion

  • Academic excellence starts with opportunity … to apply knowledge learned in the classroom, to experience other cultures, to be a part of real-world research projects. At IUP, our students learn from professors who are active in research and eager to inspire in others the enthusiasm they have for their subjects.

    Dr. Steven Hovan’s love of the ocean runs deeper than the surf and the sand. The geoscience professor is drawn to the dust beneath the ocean floor that holds clues to the evolution of the earth and its climate systems.

    It’s a passion he loves to share—as his students can attest.

    “One of the things I teach students is that the earth is mostly oceans, so if you want to know what’s going on in the earth’s history, you have to look to the oceans to find it,” said Dr. Hovan, chair of IUP’s Geoscience Department.

    Steve Hovan portraitDr. Hovan’s introduction to oceanography was a coastal engineering class his freshman year at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

    “The moment I took that class, I was hooked,” he said. The very next year he signed on for a semester at sea.

    “As soon as I got out on the boat, I was tickled with the idea of being an oceanographer. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

    As a graduate student, Dr. Hovan went on his first of several research cruises with what is now the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. This international scientific research program extracts and curates sediment cores from the ocean floor, making them available to scientists around the world.

    Dr. Hovan analyzes dust within the sediment cores to learn about ancient winds.

    “We’re mainly looking at aspects of how the global climate system has worked at different times in the past and how it’s evolved to present day, … so that we can understand and better predict changes for future climates.”

    In 2006, Dr. Hovan was appointed to a three-year term on the U.S. Advisory Committee for Ocean Drilling, which provides direction and funding for the IODP. But while he devotes weeks at a time to research, he has no intention of giving up teaching.

    “There’s something refreshing about having somebody who likes geology, and you help them learn to love it, or even more so, someone who doesn’t like science and you help them learn to appreciate it,” Dr. Hovan said.

    Steve Hovan with student“One really beautiful thing about IUP and being able to do research here is that it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about teaching because these are new findings. You’re discovering and discussing things that have relevance.”

    For students who have joined Dr. Hovan on research cruises, the scientific experience and exposure to other lands and cultures have been invaluable.

    “It gives them a tremendous confidence-building experience that they’re part of a scientific community now,” he said. “And that’s a transition you never really realize until you’re through it.”

    At IUP, it’s not unusual for undergraduates to be involved in research projects, making their learning experience comparable to that of many graduate programs elsewhere, Dr. Hovan said.

    “I think the opportunities that our students have here at least rival, and probably outrival, most of our big-school competitors.”

    In June 2007, Dr. Hovan earned the title of University Professor, an award presented to an IUP faculty member who demonstrates an outstanding record of teaching, research, and scholarly activity and service.

    The honor baffled him. “It’s kind of funny when you get an award for things that you really, really like to do,” he said.

    Dr. Hovan counts among his major influences Dr. David Rea, the professor who taught his first oceanography class, hired him in his first science job, served as his graduate thesis advisor, and eventually became one of his closest friends.

    “I think it was the fact that he had the highest level of ethics that I’ve ever known and was genuinely true to science,” Dr. Hovan said.

    “When I work with our undergraduates, I keep that in mind. The kind of influence he had on me, I’m hoping, is the same kind of influence I can have on my students.”