Sean Fitzgerald

Geology majors Sean Fitzgerald and Theresa Schwartz learned that, in Alaska, appearances can be deceiving – especially when it comes to maps.

Geology majorsCollecting samples of igneous rocks with geology professor Ron Cole, the students found that what looked on their map to be a gentle slope would often turn out to be a steep climb with many rises and descents. “Almost every minute of hiking required concentration,” says Theresa, who minors in economics. “Until we actually started our work I failed to realize just how dense the vegetation can get and how steep and sometimes unstable slopes can be.”

Their field research–which was supported by the Dr. William H. Parsons Geology Endowment Fund at Allegheny–focused on the presence of volcanic rocks in areas where current geologic models indicate they shouldn’t be. Sean and Theresa are now waiting for geochemical data that will tell them the origin of the magma that created the igneous rocks.

Their findings will inform Sean’s senior comprehensive project and an independent study by Theresa. “The life of a geologist revolves around field work,” says Sean, who minors in English. “My trip to Alaska was a great experience of how field work could be when I’m doing my own research.”

Indeed, Sean and Theresa are grateful for the opportunity they had to apply concepts learned in the classroom to a dynamic and challenging environment. And both plan to return to Alaska for further research. “With this experience under my belt,” says Theresa, “I believe I can take on anything my grad school research requires.”