Geology professor shines inside and outside the classroom

The room was filled with panic. 

People gasped as they frantically stumbled over wavering furniture, trying to cross the swaying office space to an exit door that seemed miles away. 

All but one. 

For Joe Holliday, the October 1, 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake was one of the pivotal moments where he realized that he had chosen the right path in life. 

“Talk about a defining moment,” Holliday, an oceanography and geology professor at EC, said as he leaned back in his office chair with a smile on his face.

While Holliday was steadying a bookshelf inside the one-story building where he worked for the Unocal 76 gas company, the rest of his office had fled the building and went home on that early October morning. 

“I wasn’t concerned at all because I don’t fear earthquakes,” Holliday said.

He then went to his home in Whittier where he found out that where he lived was the epicenter of the first major earthquake the area had seen in 15 years. His neighborhood was in shambles and his neighbors were distraught. 

The foundation of his home was cracked. Water bubbled up in his yard from broken pipes underneath the soil and the front porches on the homes both to his left and right had collapsed. 

Holliday was excited.

Now, Holliday takes the same excitement he felt that October morning and applies it to his job every day as he teaches geology and oceanography, along with having many other jobs both on and off campus. 

In addition to being a professor, he is the co-director of the Honors Transfer Program, where he interacts with more than 500 students. Outside of EC, he works for the National Geographic Society as a specialist in geology. 

“I go to places that are on the edge of civilization,” Holliday said. 

His excitement is the source behind his work for National Geographic, where he is an educator who explains earth science concepts to non-earth scientists. He works with scientists on ships that sail polar and non-polar areas worldwide. 

“Every year I go to Alaska, the Arctic Ocean, and/or Antarctica,” Holliday said. “I really like it because it puts me in the field, right where scientists are working with global climate change.”

Holliday’s goal as an educator for National Geographic is to raise awareness for global climate change. His work involves studying the latest research, visiting research stations worldwide and consolidating information that he can explain to students or non-earth scientists. 

Holliday said he strives to be “the communicator between the science world and the non-science world.”

As an educator, his excitement has earned him a reputation that his students can hardly forget. His former students recall his daily anecdotes and enthusiasm in the classroom.

Sarah Khan, 19, political science major and one of Holliday’s former students, said that having Holliday as a professor was “a very interesting experience. Never a dull moment.” 

His involvement with students and his presence in the classroom has made him stand out as a professor that is actively involved in the subject that he teaches. 

Another former student of his, Brittany Brown, 21, child development major, said that Holliday is a “very enthusiastic professor. What makes him unique is that he’s very interested in his profession.” 

Holliday’s genuine excitement for geology and teaching it earned him the Distinguished Faculty Award. He takes pride in the fact that a student nominated him for the award.

Professors are usually nominated by the dean or other faculty members for this award, and it is less common for a professor to be nominated by a student. 

“I’m very proud of the fact that it was a student who nominated me because I really believe that we should all be student centered,” Holliday said. “That’s the purpose of the school. That’s the purpose of the clubs.”