Students studying in Earth Science major say they have a ground’s view of the campus, state and world. They enthusiastically point to examples on campus, and off, when it comes to rocks, minerals, soils, ground and surface water and environmental history.
The most interested among them, and some nonmajors, are members of the Earth Science Club where attendees can participate in a variety of field trips exploring geological features.
Shane Smith, a senior earth science major with a concentration in geology, is club president. Smith says he wants to share his love of geology with every student on campus.
Smith says he the club meetings are an opportunity to take other clubs on campus to sites and share their knowledge.
“We could always go to [nearby] East Rock and West Rock. Now we can do a little more of an educational tour,” Smith said, “where we can go, not really as people going to get the view, but more as educators.”
“I try to get other groups and other clubs involved in what we’re doing,” says Smith, “We had a [‘Jeopardy’-like] event with the GEMS Club. So, that had a bunch of people from other clubs.”
When it’s not holding campus events, the club is traveling through the state. There were spring plans to visit Kent Falls for a short hike, then visiting the nearby Connecticut Museum of Mining and Mineral Science, operated by the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association.
“It’s about 15 minutes down the road [from the hike]. This mining museum has compiled Connecticut’s old mining tools, equipment and machinery,” Smith says.
It also has an extensive collection of minerals. All the minerals on display are native to the state, including locally mined garnet.
“There’s a case that has beautiful fluorites and things that show really good crystal shapes,” Smith says.
Tyler Santiago-Gamble, a senior Earth Science major with a concentration in environmental science, says Southern has awide array of classes to offer students including glacial geology.
Santiago-Gamble says that one of the places he would like to visit with the Earth Science club is Southford Falls in Southbury.
“There are exposures there that date back to Pangea. And if you get to the top of the mountain, you can see the U-shaped valley that a glacier formed when it came through,” he says.
The club also presents research projects with faculty at the national Geological Society of America conferences.
The department, under Prof. Thomas Fleming, chairperson, offers three degrees: BS and BA degrees in Earth Science and BS in Earth Science Education. The BS degree has five concentrations. There are also two minors: Earth Science and natural resources.
PHOTOS | BROOKE KURYAN
Geology of Connecticut
This rock wall, located inside the Academic Science and Laboratory Building, is constructed entirely of rocks collected from across the state and is intended as a teaching tool to display Connecticut’s rich geologic heritage. The rocks in the display are arranged geographically. The two panels on the left come from western Connecticut, an area referred to as the Western Highlands. The middle two panels come from central Connecticut and consist of rocks from the Hartford Basin. The two panels on the right consist of rocks from the Eastern Highlands. Rock samples that make up the wall have been collected by students and faculty of the Earth Science Department.
In addition to learning about glacial geology, there are opportunities for students to go to sites and learn how to do field work.
Corey Reilly, a senior earth science major with a concentration in natural hazards, added, “there’s also background [classes] like historical geology that would give you the history from the start of the Earth to now.”
For a more hands-on education, classes within the Earth Science faculty take students to locations around Connecticut, and teach them about the geological features there. Santiago-Gamble says that during his field methods class, he went to many sites across the state.
Smith says that during his field methods class, “We went to a few places where stone was cut for [retail] stores. We went to a Target that where to make the shopping center they cut the surrounding bedrock, and actually exposed some really nice things, like pillow basalts.” Santiago-Gamble added, “It’s like how they cut when they are doing a highway.”
When going to sites around campus, Smith says that his classes discuss how the features they are looking at occur. They can look at the effects of the historical events they talk about in class. However, geologists do not just learn about how the Earth was formed, they also help get information about an area based on the soil.
For Smith, Santiago-Gamble and Reilly the geology skills they have gained on campus have given them a new perspective on their future careers. While Smith says he is hoping to use his geology degree to become an environmental consultant, there are many other benefits to being educated in geology.
“There’s a lot of rich history here and this is actually a pretty unique place in the failed Hartford basin,” said Smith. “There are a lot of geology things going on here, that you really don’t even appreciate or understand.”
Among the great examples of Connecticut geological history is the campus rock garden in front of the Academic Science and Laboratory building, which doubles at times as an outdoor classroom. The circular structure built using rocks native to Connecticut.
There are 52 large-scale rocks which Fleming was able to arrange to be donated to the university from quarries throughout the state, including New Milford, Branford and Southbury.
Outside of entrance of the building are giant rock s as part of the water collection and waterfall system. Those granite specimens are from Stony Creek Quarry in Branford. Stony Creek granite is the same used for the steps of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Inside the science building and nearby Morrill Hall there are displays in the hallways of where visitors can see giant pieces of quartz, calcite and fluorite. Greeting visitors near one entrance to the science building is a full-length wall display of native Connecticut rocks with signs detailing the types and sources.
Some are from donated collections and others collected by faculty and students.
The impact of involvement in the major and club can be a lasting one, says Carey Ciaburri, a program graduate who is currently studying Applied Physics on nanotechnology/materials science track at Southern.
“Being part of the Earth Science Club had a great impact on me while I was pursuing my Earth Science undergraduate degree. Through the club, I had the opportunity to attend and present a poster of my research at a Geological Society of America conference in Burlington, Vt. This exposure was not only a great way to build academic and professional experiences, but it also resulted in creating fun memories with my classmates.”
“There are many overlaps in physics, materials science, and nanotechnology with Earth Science which I have had the opportunity to explore and find to be very exciting. Recently, I was accepted into a PhD program in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Yale University. I will be starting this fall.
“As far as my career goals, I am hoping to either continue in academic research or pursue industry. I also hope to have the opportunity to some day inspire future students, as I have been so fortunate to have had professors who inspired me.
“In my experience, I have found that there has been a notable number of women enrolled in both programs I attended at SCSU [both Earth Science and applied physics]. Both departments have created such a welcoming environment to women. It is great to see so many women interested in STEM at Southern, especially in physical sciences such as Earth Science and physics,” says Ciaburri.
By Brooke Kuryan