Spring 2022 Geoscience for the Common Good (GEOL 0370)
This course is intended to provide students a hands-on demonstration of the fundamental relevance of the geosciences. My hope is that through collaboration with one or more community partners, students will apply field and lab-based analyses to generate and interpret data that will help meet a legitimate societal need.
I’m open to considering a wide variety of directions for this new class. For instance, students could partner with a land-management organization interested in developing public-facing, map-based interpretive products. Students could conduct soil mapping to estimate carbon storage in forest lands. Collection of lake sediment cores in another possibility if a community partner had interest in the long-term history of a particular area. Geophysical techniques like ground penetrating radar could also be applied in an archeological context to map the distribution of cultural features in the subsurface in a non-invasive manner. At this point I’m not committed to any one of these ideas; ideally there would be a way to combine more than one of them so that students come away with an array of experiences demonstrating how geoscience methods can be applied beyond the classroom.
I have taught at Middlebury for 20 years and coordinated dozens of students in research projects. I’m familiar with the techniques that would likely be incorporated in this class including geology/geomorphic mapping, GIS analysis, field and lab study of soils, collection and analysis of lake sediment cores, ground penetrating radar and passive seismic investigations for shallow stratigraphic analysis, stable isotopic analysis of water samples, and geochemical characterization of rock and soil samples. I am also a FAA Part 107-certified remote pilot with experience in the use of uncrewed aerial systems for mapping and landscape characterization.
This upper-level elective in the Geology Department will be open to any students who have completed an introductory course, as well as two intermediate-level core courses. I won’t know for sure the composition of the class until after registration, but I would expect a mixture of junior and senior-level students with varied experiences in field and lab techniques, including geologic mapping, geochemical analysis, and the presentation of geospatial data.
Learning goals fall into two broad categories. One is technical: not every students gets the same exposure to the same techniques when moving through our curriculum because they don’t all take the same classes. This upper-level course will provide the chance for a group of our majors to gain a unified experience with an array of techniques that don’t necessarily come together in other parts of the curriculum. Some of the possible techniques, like geophysics, are not presented in any other classes right now, so this will be their only chance to learn about these methods.
The other goal is less concrete, but I am struck by the sense that students in general, and geology students in particular, often get stuck in their specific topics/classes and fail to see the myriad connections that can be made with the wider world. The classic cliche of “You’re a Geology major? What are you going to do with that, work for an oil company?” comes to mind. The reality is that so much of what students learn in geology courses is so relevant to modern society; whether it’s resources, natural hazards, waste disposal, agriculture, climate change, human health, or just the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the fascinating world in which we live. I would like students to leave this class realizing that geology is not something relevant only to the quirky few who like rocks, but for anyone who lives on this planet.
This will depend on the partner, their needs, and the project(s). My main criteria are the goal is authentic, so that students will recognize the value in what they are doing, and that the goal is achievable in the span of the semester with the tools at our disposal, so that the students’ efforts can make a difference.
My only direct experience with community collaboration was in Winter Term 2014 when my Winter Lake Coring class collaborated with the Lakes and Ponds Management and Protection Section of the Vermont ANR to develop an environmental record from the sediments in High Pond that spanned several thousand years. This water body is routinely monitored by the ANR, but their dataset lacked the long-term perspective needed to put observed contemporary changes in context. Students collected and analyzed a sediment core using facilities at Middlebury, and presented their findings to staff of the ANR.