Geology Capstone - Interpreting Real-life Situations: Video Transcript

Dr. Bill Hart [Chair, Geology]: I'm Bill Hart, department chair in the Department of Geology here at Miami University. I'm also the director of the Geology Field Station, based out of Timberline Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. Dubois is in the Wind River Basin in Wyoming.

The field station has been operating for 64 consecutive years, as of the summer of 2010, this coming summer. And what we do at the field station is it serves as a capstone geology course. We run a number of courses from the field station, but the primary course is our capstone geology field course. In that course, students learn a variety of techniques. They build on their experiences in coursework back here during in their major in geology.

And we do a lot of traveling. As I said, we're based out of Timberline Ranch, but for the first two weeks we're actually on the road, camping and really learning about the geology of the northern US Cordillera, in other words the Rocky Mountains. We actually go out and learn about volcanic processes out in the Snake River Plain. We go to Craters of the Moon National Monument. We then go on to Yellowstone National Park and look at the classic super-volcano issues that we hear on the news about Yellowstone. And then we head north along basically the Rocky Mountain front, looking at a variety of sort of classic geologic locations where we actually get into how mountains form, folding and thrust faulting, and all the processes that form mountains, such as the Rocky Mountains. And, in fact, we end up in Banff, in Canada, and look at really classic locations that many of the textbooks have been written on in terms of mountain-forming processes.

And then we head on back to Dubois, Wyoming, where we spend three weeks based out of the ranch. By that time, the students are really ready to back to, even though they're rustic, cabins that have actual bathrooms and meals cooked for them rather than camping out for the two weeks. And while we're there, the students are working on mapping projects where they're actually being asked to go out and construct geologic maps of a variety of different locations nearby the ranch.

And the students work in teams of anywhere from two to three, which is partly for safety issues but also so they can bounce ideas off of one another. The mapping projects are a classic way of thinking about how do you really think creatively and think critically about solving a problem. You're put out there in a field locality. You're put in a field setting that has inherent difficulties — weather, wildlife, terrain, all those things — and you're also being asked to interpret the geology as you do that. So, having field partners to help both in the logistics as well as bouncing ideas off of is a very valuable experience, and the students really enjoy that. Day in and day out, it's a fairly standard routine. We get up. We're out in the field. We're leaving the ranch by 8:00 in the morning. We're usually back by about 5:00, 5:30 in the evening, and then the evening session runs as late as it needs for the students to actually complete their work.

So, what the students really get out of this is something that historically has been part of geology curricula nationwide for well over a hundred years, I would say. It's this ability to take and interpret real-life situations — and there's no better place to do that than out in the field for a geologist. And the mapping skills that the students learn, along with a lot of the other skills that they learn, whether they ever use them directly to make geologic maps in graduate school or in a job, they've learned a lot of other very important aspects of how to interpret information and how to work with people. And all those things are very critical to wherever they're going to go with their career, whether it's graduate school or industries like oil and gas or the environmental industry.

[December 2009]