CFCC Instructor Rocks the Geology Department
Mastodon ear bones, a variety of skulls, a petrified tree stump, shark teeth, gems, a dinosaur footprint, and other fossils are just a few of the things you might find in Cape Fear Community College’s geological artifact collection. Step inside CFCC’s geology lab, and you will discover a treasure trove of artifacts collected and safeguarded by CFCC senior geology instructor “Dr. Rocks.”
Dr. Rocks, aka Phil Garwood, has been teaching and inspiring CFCC students for over 20 years. All the while, he has been gathering unique and fascinating treasures to add to CFCC’s geological gallery. Some of the pieces date back 450 million years. Many were found locally: from Greenfield Lake to Castle Hayne. Items have also been donated by students, faculty, a local gemologist, and a local museum.
Eye on the Prize
Among the CFCC collection, Garwood classifies one particular artifact as the “prize” piece: a Native American digging tool discovered in the Wilson, NC area. Crafted of rhyolite rock, the instrument was created approximately 7,500 years ago, most likely by a branch of the Iroquoian Tribe. This piece is kept in a secure office dedicated to Native American artifacts, art, and books.
Garwood designed this office space to reflect his admiration of Native American ingenuity. “They had to develop a way to make spear points and arrowheads,” Garwood explained. “They had to break rocks and study them to develop a method to make sharp points. They were very diligent and smart. One could say they were early geologists.”
When asked about his personal favorite item in the collection, Garwood points to a container of chert, the smoothest and hardest of all sedimentary rocks, and is commonly found in coastal and limestone environments. Native Americans discovered that chert breaks into sharp edges perfect for spears and arrowheads.
If These Rocks Could Talk
As a geologist, Garwood enjoys sharing stories about the collection with school groups and visitors. However, as an instructor, Dr. Rocks expects his students to discover and learn about their own specimens, and then, tell their own stories. At the beginning of each semester, he instructs each student to find a rock to analyze throughout the semester. Using techniques learned during the course, students evaluate their rock and prepare a report identifying the sample and describing its many characteristics.
“Students often ask me, ‘what if I get it wrong’?” Garwood shared. “Many beginning students will misidentify their rock. But, I am looking for the sequence of analysis. I want them to show me how they arrived at their conclusion. I want them to learn how to solve something.”
Former student Christina Whaley cultivated excitement for the course. “On my first day, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. He quickly eased my mind because he was always there to help me if I had any questions,” Whaley shared. “I found myself rockhounding in my spare time, and I couldn’t wait to get to class to show him what I found. He not only encouraged me to keep it up. He gave me a jeweler’s loupe so I could take a closer look at my findings. He is honestly one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me.
Dr. Rocks teaches geology courses for Cape Fear Community Colleges’ degree programs. Learn more about these programs at CFCC Programs of Study .