This summer, I attended a field camp course with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) entitled “Depositional Systems of Western California.” The course focused on the nature of submarine sedimentary deposits, with particular emphasis on submarine canyon formation. We spent the first week at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where we were tasked with mapping and examining the stratigraphic cyclicity of sedimentary units, structures, and bedforms in the Paleocene Carmelo Formation. Two competing hypotheses have been used to model the conditions of deposition within this formation. The first suggests a prolonged period of mass transport leading to repeated layers of sandstone, mudstone, and shale. The second claims a shorter time frame of deposition and proposes that thrust faulting within the formation is leading to an overestimation of total formation thickness. Using our maps and observations, we took the time to put forth our own models that either critiqued or reinforced the two provided hypotheses. This approach to studying sedimentary stratigraphy required that we create a small research project and proposal from start to finish—a practice rarely implemented in classroom settings.
What did receiving the J. David Lowell Field Camp Scholarship mean to you?
When I applied for a field camp, I had just taken a job as a technician in a university research lab. As a recent college graduate, taking time from work for a $3,000 field course was a daunting endeavor. I had just started learning to manage my finances and live independently, all the while still hoping to get the field camp experience I never had in undergraduate due to COVID. The J. David Lowell Field Camp Scholarship relieved so much of this burden by providing me with funding to pay for a majority of the camp tuition fees. Moreover, I received a free Brunton compass, a very versatile (and expensive!) tool that was required for my field course. I felt very supported by the GSA Foundation and am so grateful for all that they contributed to my invaluable field camp experience.
What did that experience teach you about geosciences, yourself, and your future career?
Like many geologists in my year, courses like sedimentary stratigraphy were only offered virtually. In this field camp, I got to explore shallow and deep marine stratigraphy in extensive detail and learn about all the nuances that exist in this unique field of study. Moreover, my professor’s background was in the oil industry, and we had the chance to learn about the fascinating connections between these marine deposits and the energy source that we all, often obliviously, thrive on. I attended a research university for undergrad where geoscience career paths in the private sector were rarely discussed. With this program, however, I had a chance to learn from someone with direct knowledge on the nature of industry-based geology careers and get advice on navigating job opportunities in both the private and public sectors. At the end of the course, our professor even took us on a tour of his alma mater, Stanford, to see their Earth Science building where we got to meet his old advisor. We gained insight into the graduate school process and learned about all the amazing research opportunities that lie ahead of us as geoscientists. These connections and lessons were invaluable, and I plan to take them into account during my own graduate school application process this coming fall.
What opportunities did attending field camp provide that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?
As a geophysics major during COVID, I had minimal opportunities to explore field geology in a guided, hands-on setting. More crucially, I was never able to become deeply engaged with my courses by discussing, questioning, and brainstorming ideas with my peers and professors. At my summer field camp with SDSMT, I gained access to all these benefits and more. The course was rigorous and emphasized not just proper field geology technique, but proper work ethic and organizational skills, which I consider to be just as valuable. As a California resident, I had the chance to meet students from across the United States. When we weren’t having late-night study sessions or debates about map interpretations, we were teaching each other about the geology and culture of our hometowns and regions. Even car rides to field sites were spent taking in words of wisdom from our incredible professor, a leading expert in his field of deep marine sedimentary systems. Months later, I still keep in touch with both the students and the professor from the course to talk about memories, send photos of rocks, and share news about upcoming professional development opportunities!
In your opinion, how important is field camp for geoscience students?
Upon graduating from college, I did not immediately intend to enroll in a summer field course at another institution. However, shortly after, I came across a quote by British geologist Herbert Harold Read, which said, “The best geologist is [the one] who has seen the most rocks.” I believe this line perfectly exemplifies the role that field camp plays for undergraduate geology students. It is the crux of our education as aspiring geoscientists. This is especially true for the many students who suffered through virtual education during the peak(s) of the pandemic. Semesters of online petrology, mineralogy, and field geology can only teach so much compared to in-person, on-the-ground observation. Field camp allows students to directly interact with their planet and observe the incredible phenomena that shape the ground under our feet. I recommend it to any student who is pursuing work in, or related to, geosciences.
Why should individuals support field camp opportunities for students?
In addition to new limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic, greater awareness is being shed on the fact that traditional field camps appeal primarily to those with the economic and physical privileges that are not available to all students. Funding and scholarship opportunities, like the J. David Lowell Field Camp Scholarship, are the essential first steps to creating a geoscience workforce that is integrated and diverse. Considering the role that field camp played for my own graduate and future professional career, it is of the utmost importance that such programs are equal access.