[This was written by Prof. Mary Savina to Patricia Martin, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, as a background memo in preparation for a grant proposal, but it gives interesting insights into the Geology Department curriculum.]
Hi Patricia -
I volunteered to provide you with some basic information about geology comps, so that my colleagues can bombard your e-mail with other kinds of information. We require that each senior geology major undertake and complete an independent project of their own devising. They must write a formal proposal for the project which is reviewed by the department faculty and staff. Each student completes the project and reports the results in written, oral and poster form.
Many students choose lab and field-based research for their comps projects. Here are the titles of many of the projects of this type that were completed this year, broken into rough categories to indicate which were related closely to faculty interests, which were done as part of Keck Consortium student-faculty research projects and which were supervised in the field by non-Carleton faculty :
Projects closely linked to faculty research interests, which grow out of both off-campus seminars such as the Italy seminar run by Dave Bice last fall, and ongoing research by each of the faculty members: Nathan Church, "Paleomagnetic polarity at the Rupelian/Chattian boundary and petrology of the Scaglia Cinerea, Italy"; David Jones, "Anomalous magnetization processes in the Great Ignimbrite of Bosa, Sardinia (Italy): Mechanisms and implications for tectonic analysis"; Alison Macalady, "A Mediterranean perspective on Middle Oligocene climate"; Aaron McDaniel, "Strontium isotope analysis of the Scaglia Cinerea in Piobbico, Italy: an Oligocene sea level drop and Mediterranean isolation reflected in 87Sr/86Sr Ratio"
Projects done as part of Keck Consortium student-faculty research: Megan Anderson, "The Crandall Conglomerate: A fluvial deposit, northwestern Wyoming"; Martha Carlson, "Knickpoint migration and Tufa accretion in five south river tributaries, central Virginia"; Joe Colgan, "Heart Mountain faulting and the emplacement of intrusive rocks at Painter Gulch, near White Mountain, northwest Wyoming"; Deb Cussen, "An analysis of Ostreoliths ('Oyster Balls') from the Carmel Formation (Jurassic), southwestern Utah"; Erik Ekdahl, "The origin of mafic enclaves in a Granitoid intrusion: Magma mingling in the Proterozoic of Colorado"; Carrie Elliott, "A tale of two chronosequences: Soil development and landscape evolution on two flights of terraces on shale and limestone bedrock, James River, VA"; Peter Erickson, "Incised erosion surfaces in the Appalachian Valley and Ridge Province, southwestern Virginia"; Brian Klawiter, "Petrology and geochemistry of the Secret Spring Mountain Area: a section of the High Cascades on the Oregon-California Border"; Eli Levitt, "Geochemistry and tectonic setting of Proterozoic amphibolites from the Road Gulch area near Texas Creek, Fremont County, Colorado"; Anders Nilsson, "Structure and petrology of Secret Spring Mountain's western slope"; Kurt Steffen, "Geothermobarometry of Garnet-Amphibolites of the Archean Spuhler Peak and Pony-Middle Mountain metamorphic suites of the Tobacco Root Mountains, southwest Montana"; Kati Szramek, "Petrology and geochemistry of the Proterozoic rocks from the Howard and Jack Hall Quadrangles, Fremont County, Colorado: implications for tectonic setting"; Kristin Ulstad, "Textural characteristics of the microbreccia layer of the Heart Mountain fault, Wyoming-Montana: evidence for volcanic fluidization"
Projects done with a non-Carleton mentor (in general, in seeking out these projects the students did their own networking to find opportunities, which allowed our 36 majors more opportunities than we could have provided for them): Joshua Bookin, "Field mapping and relative dating of glacial limits in the Sanctuary River Valley, Denali National Park, Alaska"; Todd Fleming, "The geologic evolution of eastern Eistla Regio, Venus and implications for corona modeling"; Lindsay Lightner, "Paleosols from the Mascall Formation, Oregon: Implications for Miocene Paleoclimate Change"; Adam Maloof, "Superposed folding at the junction of the inland and coastal belts, Damara Orogen, NW Namibia"; Peter Moore, "Response of a Jokulhlaup-affected Proglacial drainage system to glacial retreat: Skeioararsandur, southeastern Iceland", Dan Thornton, "The influence of parent material and topography on the fertility of two volcanic ash-derived soils in Costa Rica" Other comps field research projects: Sarah Jarvis, "Petrographic and geochemical analysis of igneous rocks on the Island of Vis, Croatia"; Chris Jones, "Castles made of sand?: An introduction and evaluation of modern coastal protection and policy using a case study of a beach nourishment project on Salt Aire, Fire Island, New York"; Frances Watson, "Nesting success of Loggerhead turtles on Cape Island, South Carolina"
Other students propose and complete projects that involve environmental research with data and documents. Two examples from this year (there were others) are: Miles Mercer, "Dissemination of forecast information for the 1997-98 El Nino event" (Note: this project was an outgrowth of an internship that Miles had at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado); Trina Vithayathil, "A hydro-political study of a drainage canal: the Third River, Iraq"
Still others propose and complete projects involving education, community service or outreach. One example from this year (there were others): Dave Bitner, "Using the World Wide Web to consolidate information: The Cannon River Watershed" (David set up the website for the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, a local non-profit group. Here's the URL if you want to check it out at "http://nco.northfield.mn.us/crwp/index.html". Last year there were several projects of this type, including Geoff Ruth's "Writing geoscience textbooks that rock". Geoff wrote and tested a chapter on soils for a high school textbook. He is now teaching secondary school science in East Palo Alto, CA.
The department faculty welcomes student work in all of these categories. The greater number of conventional "field and lab research" compared to education, outreach, and environmental research using data and documents reflects students' wishes for their comps projects, not a faculty desire to "push" this type of project. We are careful to call the comps an "independent project" and not restrict it to "independent research." In fact, some of the field research projects each year include education and outreach components and many are related to environmental problems. We are able to nominate many geology majors to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, because by midway through their senior year, they have demonstrated a high potential for independent research through their work on comps.
We've found that spring terms, when students present their projects orally, is a most exciting celebration for the department. This year our nine sessions each featured four student talks of 15-20 minutes. We hold these sessions in a large lecture room; frequently every seat is filled with standees in the back. This year many parents were able to attend their daughter's or son's talks. The talks are as polished and professional as most of those we hear at professional meetings. The faculty evaluates each student's completed comps project by comparing it with the proposal that the student submitted and we accepted.
In addition to senior comps projects, independent research projects are integral to most of our core geology courses. Here's a "snapshot" of projects done as part of our curriculum this term (spring, 1998):
Yesterday (Monday, June 1) was the next to last day of classes. Students in at least four geology courses gave presentations about small group projects they had completed as a major part of the courses. Clint Cowan's students in Introductory Geology gave oral reports on aspects of the local geology that they had chosen to research in depth. These included such things as the history of Lyman Lakes (including turbidity measurements after last week's storms); how hog manure from a feedlot might affect the groundwater; how flow on the Cannon River has been altered by retaining walls, bank protection and other kinds of engineering, etc.
My Introductory Geology students presented posters on the geologic history of southeastern Minnesota that they completed in small groups. Most sections of introductory geology at Carleton explore this geologic history through a series of local field trips during the term; students integrate this material through papers, posters and/or exam questions. The significant point is that the field work and integration is discovery and inquiry-based. We ask students to use their own observations to synthesize the history, rather than relying on any published material. In fact, students quickly discover that general textbook statements about different sedimentary environments are quite inadequate to cope with the complexities of nature as shown in our local rocks. Students gain real experience in working through geologic problems.
Ed's Paleobiology class presented posters on small group projects, some of which represented library research, others which were field and lab-based research (such as an ecological analysis of the fossilized shallow marine community of the Decorah Shale) and at least one of which was a computer modeling project (that group used the dynamic modeling program STELLA to simulate the extinction of mammoths by constructing a system where mammoth population distributions, hunting rates and other factors were integrated.) Students selected their own topics.
Dave's Structural Geology class gave oral presentations on small group experiments in deformation. I heard one group talk about how they created diapir structures by shaking layers of Argo cornstarch/water and green sand. Their "results" were frozen in Tupperware containers. Students in Dave's tectonics and structural geology classes usually do such experimental projects, relating the way the modeling material in the lab behaves to the ways real earth materials behave when deformed at (sometimes) slower rates over longer times.
The projects in these four classes also show how we try to prepare students for an eventual senior independent project by doing a number of small-scale independent inquiry-based projects in classes for the major. Most students in Introductory Geology will go on to major in fields other than geology, and Paleobiology also has a hefty proportion of non-majors. Expectations for the non-majors in these classes are identical to those for the students majoring in geology.