A beloved, longtime geology and science professor will be honored this fall with a new endowment and the naming of a room in the Science Center at Southern Arkansas University.
The Leo Carson Davis Travel Endowment, established by his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Davis, will support student and/or faculty travel and field experiences for the College of Science and Engineering. The SAU Foundation will name the intermediate physics lab (Room 110) the Leo Carson Davis Room.
Davis was awarded a National Merit Scholarship in 1960 and earned a B.S. in zoology and an M.S. in geology from the University of Arkansas. In 1975, he earned a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Iowa. He was a lecturer for the University of Maryland European Division from 1975-1979, teaching geology and biology to American service personnel in Germany, Spain, and Greece, an experience that sparked a lifelong desire to travel.
Dr. Leo Carson Davis began a 33-year career of teaching geology and physical science at SAU in 1981. A vertebrate paleontologist, he took students on many field trips, sponsored research presentations at the Arkansas Academy of Science, and received an award for Excellence in Faculty Research.
His greatest joy was teaching geology, using photographic slides from his extensive travels as well as boxes of fossils collected on trips around the world. Davis is remembered by his colleagues and his students who have become researchers and teachers themselves, their viewpoints expanded by his lively approach to science education.
Several of his former students recalled his passion for teaching and the inspirational impact he had on their lives.
Mary Beth Green, who received a B.S. in chemistry at SAU and has enjoyed a 33-year career at such pharmaceutical companies as Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Merck Animal Health, said Davis loved teaching students in the classroom and in the field. “His job did not end when the bell rang,” she said. “He was always engaged and always teaching.”
Green participated in many of Davis’ field trips, wherein Davis shared his love of geology. “He was a teacher, a mentor, and eventually a good friend,” Green said. “I treasure my friendship with both Dr. Carson Davis and Dr. Elizabeth Davis.”
Ken Ball, a retired science teacher living in northwest Arkansas, also considers Davis “a great professor, mentor, and friend. Ball described Davis’ teaching as rigorous: “He required you to learn new material and to work in the classroom. He challenged you to do your best.” Ball, who has known Davis for almost 35 years, said students always enjoyed trips “to find shark teeth, fossil shells, the rare Mosasaur tooth, and many other types of fossils. I patterned much of my own teaching after him.”
Dr. Brynne Bryan, a retired biology lecturer at the University of California Dominguez Hills, graduated from SAU with a biology degree in 1989. “When I first took Dr. Carson’s geology class, I was hooked on his style of teaching,” Bryan said. “He was funny and full of interesting anecdotes. I took as many classes with him as I could.” Bryan went on to earn an M.S. in environmental science at the University of North Texas and a Ph.D. in aquatic ecology at the University of Puerto Rico. “I was inspired by many great teachers, but Dr. Davis was always my favorite. When I began teaching at CSUDH, I was happy to use him as a model.”
Dr. Connie Wilson, assistant professor of education at SAU, said that as a student, she enjoyed taking Davis’ field trips. “He loved providing opportunities to enhance learning and really cared about his students,” she said.
Davis studied volcanoes in Hawaii, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Iceland, and Greece, and glaciers in Switzerland, Norway, Alaska, and Glacier National Park. He explored mountains in Peru, Austria, Andorra and Colorado, and examined earthquake damage in Missouri and Italy. He brought pictures and specimens back to his classes at SAU, living by the motto: “The geologist who has seen the most geology knows the most about geology.” Davis retired as a full professor at SAU in 2014.
This gift was part of the University’s Love and Loyalty Campaign, an effort that is in its final month, seeking to raise $22.275 million. Increasing the number of student travel opportunities available through the SAU Foundation is a major focus of the campaign’s student enrichment focus.