He breezed into the classroom, toting a thick binder of course notes.
Finding his place immediately, he’d glance at his notes, look
up at his students and plow head-on into stratigraphic theories, paleonotological
mysteries and all forms of rock hypotheses one could think of.
If your pen was
not poised on the page and your mind tuned in, you would be lost from
Lynn Fichter was dynamic. He kept his class spellbound with a charismatic
teaching style. A turning point in my JMU career and my decision to
major in geology both came during my sophomore year when I took my first
exam in Evolution and aced it. When the test was returned, I found the
“A” I longed to see and a note in pencil, which read, “If
you do this neat and concise work, you will make a fine geologist.”
I looked up, and
Dr. Fichter, who was looking at me, winked as in accordance. I was hooked
from that moment on and plunged feet first into what was a whirl of
classes, labs, exams and field trips — my life from 1978 until
graduation in 1981.
Whenever you needed
help, Dr. Fichter always talked with you, not at you. He graded hard
on theory papers, always asking for one more piece to the geologic puzzle.
To compensate, you learned to be concise and direct and to not fill
papers with fluff.
Geology was facts,
Field trips were
mandatory and always early on Saturday mornings. But you never missed
a Fichter field trip in the old gold-colored geology department van.
With Dr. Fichter at the wheel, field trips were fun-filled history lessons.
He always explained the geologic history of the areas we traveled to
and colored his lessons with interesting facts about the towns that
A vivid and lasting
memory of my studies with Dr. Fichter came the first semester of my
senior year. I was struggling with a poorly labeled fossil collection
used in my paleontology class. I asked if I could relabel and cleanup
the fossil collection for the upcoming majors and classes. Dr. Fichter
welcomed my idea. Amazingly, as I returned for my 10-year reunion in
1991, I went to the paleo lab expecting things to be redone, but I saw
the same labels that I had placed in the boxes and drawers 10 years
earlier. And last year at my 20-year reunion, I again visited the paleo
lab and found the same labels with my handwriting.
Dr. Fichter either
liked my work or nobody else was crazy enough to take on the challenging
task of updating the collection. Do I need to issue a challenge here?
I worked in geology-related
fields for five years after graduation, and my fossil collection “cleanup
project” came in handy during my first job with the Smithsonian
Institution’s paleobiology department. There I classified and
cataloged the museum’s fossil collection. I wonder if it has been
The next year,
my lifelong dream of working as a park service ranger came true. My
geology background also helped me land a job at the Fossil Butte National
Monument in Kemmerer, Wyo., followed by two seasons at Dinosaur National
Monument in Vernal, Utah.
Dr. Fichter taught
me to be more organized, precise and direct in my life. I can’t
say he changed my life entirely, but he made a great impression. Now,
as a stay-at-home mom, I run a well-organized and a tight ship. Thank
you, Dr. Fichter, for being a shining light in my JMU career.
Marking his 28th year as a member of the JMU faculty, Lynn Fichter says,
“It has always been, and remains, the anticipation of working
with individual students that makes the start of each new semester exciting.
Every new student has given me the chance to see with fresh eyes and
fresh wonder subjects that I love.” Fichter is writing a book
on the geological evolution of Virginia, widening an exploration of
the application of chaos/complexity theory to understanding earth systems,
and developing an earth system course for prospective K-8 teachers in
the IDLS major.
Paula B. Nystrom (’81) has been married to husband, Scott, for
13 years. They live in South Weymouth, Mass., with their two children,
Chris, 10, and Heather, 6. Scott is an officer with the U.S. Coast Guard,
and the family is stationed in Boston, Mass., for the next two years.
Story by Paula Brentlinger
Photo by Diane Elliott (’00)