What geology students learn in areas as remote as the Brooks Range of Alaska or the foothills of the Himalayas, and how they grow through personal discovery, is impossible to replicate in the classroom. The lessons learned and the experience gained while in the field help set the stage for a geologist’s future.
The shared experiences that come from students’ field work—hiking the landscape, recording mapping observations, getting rained on and crawling under barbed wire fences—are defining moments for future geology students. In geology, experience is key, and the students who have spent the most time in the field are often the best prepared to pursue careers after graduation.
That experience motivated West Virginia University geology alumni Chris (Ph.D., 1992) and Tammy Christopher (Ph.D., 1991) to support the preparation of future geology students through the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Geology Field Experience Fund.
“Chris and I really enjoyed the field trips and field work we did as students and thought it was important to make sure other students had the same opportunities. Both of us fell in love with geology because of field experiences, and we both believe that the best geologists are those who have seen the most rocks,” said Tammy Christopher, a petroleum geologist for ExxonMobil. “In my professional life, field trips and field work have been a critical part of my learning and have contributed to better understanding and better outcomes in wells I have drilled and fields I have worked.”
Their $7,500 gift was matched by Christopher’s employer, ExxonMobil, bringing the gift’s total impact to $30,000.
“The ExxonMobil matching grant through the ExxonMobil Foundation is an awesome benefit for employees,” Christopher said. “The math is 3:1 up to $7,500, and it allows employees, spouses and retirees the opportunity to make a significant impact through gifts to their alma maters. It is an amazing way to give back to both the University and the company.”
While field camp is an essential component of each geology student’s education, the College and Department of Geology and Geography are no longer able to offer the same financial support they have in the past because of decreasing budgets and other external factors.
“There are certain experiences that are crucial for a geologist, and the most important is field camp,” said Tim Carr, Marshall Miller Professor of Energy and chair of the Department of Geology and Geography. “Climbing mountains, recording strikes and dips on maps, getting rained on, cracking rocks and synthesizing observations—one who not only notices a mountain on the landscape, but ponders why it is there.”
Thanks to the ongoing generosity of alumni and friends like the Christophers, the Geology Student Field Experience Fund has made several field experiences possible.
In April 2017, Associate Professor Amy Weislogel led seven students to Sapelo Island, Ga. to investigate coastal processes in back barrier, foreshore and nearshore environments. In 2016, Weislogel led six graduate students and two undergraduate students to Utah to study the sequence stratigraphy of the superb exposures of the Book Cliffs, and Associate Professor Kathleen Benison led a trip to Death Valley to observe modern evaporates.
“The trip was an excellent chance for the students to evaluate firsthand the field relationships of the geologic units they had studied all semester. They had the chance to make their own assessment of the field data and use it to test the interpretations that had been pretend in the scientific literature that served as the focus of the class,” Weislogel said. “From this experience, they learned how the scientific method is applied to a ‘historical’ science such as geology, and how the smallest grains of sand can be used to reconstruct the evolution of Earth’s greatest mountains. They also got to see the communities that developed where the geology contained significant economic resources, such as natural gas and coal.”
This summer, 57 geology students will travel to Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming for a five-week field camp.
“For me, there is no substitute for field experience. As a geologist, I spend countless hours scrutinizing well logs, core and seismic cross-sections. By visiting a field site or analogue site, a geologist can glean valuable insight from that extra dimension or feature that can pull the geologic story together,” said Valerie Smith, a geology Ph.D. candidate. “Field experience helps geologists and engineers recognize how much variability can be present within rock units while also crystalizing their geographic concepts.”
Donations to the Geology Student Field Experience Fund can be made in several ways, including direct gifts, multiyear pledges, matching gifts, appreciated securities and wills. Learn more about giving options at eberly.wvu.edu/give.
This donation was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University . Conducted by the WVU Foundation, the fundraising effort will run through December 2017.