May 10, 2021

The Geology Department lost a beloved member of its faculty with the passing of long-standing part-time faculty member, Michael Whittier, who passed away Sunday, April 25 after an extended hospitalization.

Mike received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanislaus State and began as a part-time lecturer in 2006, teaching Earth science and geology courses. Several years ago, he received the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers.  

He had a passion for geology and travel and combined those interests by traveling to geologically interesting locations. An avid “rockhound,” Mike served as president of the Mother Lode Mineral Society and the Fluorescent Mineral Society and continued to serve on the societies’ boards. 

“He had an amazing passion for both fluorescents and education,” said Terry McMillin, an officer in the Mother Lode Mineral Society. “Any teacher has to be good at sharing, and this man was amazing.” 

He was a fixture at the annual gem and mineral show held at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. 

“Mike had a passion for fluorescent minerals and loud Hawaiian shirts,” said Geology Professor Horacio Ferriz. “I didn’t care much about the minerals but considered myself a dapper flower-shirt wearer, so we developed a silent one-upmanship competition and for years, strutted past each other wearing ever more colorful garments. 

“The final confrontation happened at a local rock and mineral show, when I entered a small dark room eerily illuminated with black light where all sorts of glowing, fluorescent minerals were on display. I heard a low growl behind me and upon turning saw Mike seated among his minerals like a Hawaiian volcano. wearing a shirt that glowed like it was made of lava. I knew I was defeated and respectfully bowed to the master.” 

Whittier and his wife, Chris, operated a business called Rocks in a Hard Place, and in addition to a booth with their collection, Mike Whittier set up a darkened area to show off his fluorescents. The 10-foot-by10-foot space grew to almost double and was a big attraction McMillin said, with blacklight illuminating the fluorescent stones. 

His efforts on behalf of the mineral society and annual event extended beyond his booths. 

“He brought in so many specimens,” McMillin said. “He brought in people from out of state to bring in exhibits that you just don’t see. He was amazing. He had so much energy that he put into things to give others the opportunity to see something.” 

McMillin sat in on one of Whittier’s classes once, after they’d become friends. 

“Any teacher can be good at sharing,” McMillin said. “This man was amazing. He was a hard teacher. He told his students on day when that it was not an easy class, and if they thought they could sail through, they should take another class. He was right, but on the flip side, if students put energy into it, they will probably tell you he was one of the best instructors they ever had. He had such a passion to share it. He was that kind of person who did everything he could to make sure they enjoyed it. He wanted them to like it, too.” 

In addition to teaching Earth science and geology courses at Stan State, Whittier taught classes at Modest Junior College and Diablo Valley College and would visit elementary schools. He led several field trips to the desert and Yosemite National Park, where he taught students about the regional geology. 

“Mike will be deeply missed by students and the campus community, and beyond,” said College of Science Dean David Evans.