Just Learning in the Sand

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Allegheny College’s newest piece of technology offers students a chance to roll up their sleeves and act like a kid again — a combination of sands and smarts. This augmented reality sandbox, located in the basement of Alden Hall, arrived in late January and creates three-dimensional topographical maps based on the way students physically shape the sand.

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Tyler Pecyna is the fact-checker for Pittsburgh Magazine. This article appeared in Pittsburgh Magazine’s Great Minds newsletter.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Geology alumna provides opportunities for students

Katherine Heckman

Katherine Heckman, ’07, is an exemplary model of what she believes alumni ought to represent: she spends time with students in the geology department, goes on field trips and offers the occasional internship connection; she volunteers with the Timothy Alden Council Executive Committee, a group involved with financial opportunities for Allegheny students, and she cares deeply about the value of her degree from Allegheny College.

In short, she believes that a healthy relationship between alumni and the alma mater constitutes a degree of reciprocity. She hopes to see this relationship strengthen particularly between Allegheny College and young alumni.

“If we can show alumni that they are an important part of a student’s experience, the more they will think of Allegheny when they are able to give financial contributions,” said Heckman. “My personal goal is to try to establish this feedback loop: when a student receives guidance, their next responsibility is to give guidance.”

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Tyler Stigall is a contributing writer for The Campus.

Photo: Katherine Heckman (front right) studies bedforms with other geology classmates during her junior year at Allegheny. Photo by Katherine Heckman.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Students Get Their Hands Dirty With New Augmented Reality Sandbox

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Allegheny senior Kristy Garcia rolled up her sleeves and dug right into the sandbox, piling up clean, white sand to form a mountain.

Senior David Olson joined in as well, using his fingers to dig a trench at the base of the mountain.

As they watched the colors change from deep reds and oranges to bright greens to blues, they braced themselves for the fun part – placing their hand over the camera overlooking the sandbox to “make it rain.”

“That is so cool!” the wide-eyed environmental science majors said in unison as virtual rain washed over the mountain and sloshed into the trench.

It’s a common reaction when someone first sees Allegheny’s newest piece of technology, the augmented reality (AR) sandbox, in the basement of Alden Hall.

The AR sandbox, which arrived at Allegheny in January, combines the playfulness of a child’s sandbox with advanced technology to create a learning tool that can be used by students of all ages. When students shape the sand, a Microsoft Kinect 3-D camera and a projector with powerful software detect the movement and display a three-dimensional topographic and colored elevation map in real time.

According to Sam Reese, lab technician for the geology and environmental science departments, unlike street maps, topographic maps display 3-D characteristics of an area using lines, called contours, to represent elevation above or below sea level. Using topographic maps, engineers know where best to build a road, scientists know where rainwater will flow after a storm and hikers know where a trail is steepest.

“By using this technology, students can actually see how a topographic map portrays a 3-D world. Sometimes people don’t grasp that concept on a flat 2-D map,” Reese says. “The beauty of the sandbox is the simplicity of the model, as it tells a very complicated story.”

Reese explains that the College acquired the materials to construct the sandbox through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Allegheny carpenters built the actual box, and Craig Newell Welding in Cambridge Springs, Pa., built the metal apparatus that holds the camera and software in place. Dave Wagner, network and systems administrator in computer science and information technology services, set up the operating system and installed the software.

The idea for the AR sandbox came from a group of Czech researchers who posted a YouTube video displaying an early prototype that included elevation maps and a basic form of fluid movement, Reese says. A team at the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCaves) at the University of California Davis then added the topographic contour lines and improved the simulated fluid flow to create the current prototype. UC Davis provides the blueprints to build the system as well as the necessary software free of charge on its website.

Reese estimates that only a couple dozen AR sandboxes exist, mainly at museums. “It’s so new. The day our sandbox went live – Jan. 21 – an article appeared in the New York Times about augmented reality,” he says. “It’s really cutting edge for Allegheny to have this.”

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Allegheny senior Kristy Garcia digs in the AR sandbox.

In addition to the geology and environmental science departments using the sandbox in labs and for independent research projects, the computer science and biology departments also plan to incorporate the technology into their class curricula.

College students won’t be the only ones digging in the sand. Creek Connections, a partnership between the College and K-12 schools that focuses on hands-on watershed education, plans to incorporate the AR sandbox in activities that explore topographic maps, watersheds and stream geology.

“People are used to street maps and Google maps that are very flat. But when we talk about watershed delineation and where rain will go, the concept becomes much easier when you can use a 3-D topographic map like this,” says Wendy Kedzierski, director of Creek Connections. “With the sandbox, you can see it as the sand builds up and the colors change. It makes the connection so much easier.”

Student Kristy Garcia, who works as a project assistant with Kedzierski and the Creek Connections program, agrees. “It’s definitely easier to understand topography when looking at the sandbox,” she says.

Kedzierski believes another benefit is that the sandbox will give students who prefer hands-on activities another opportunity for learning.

“The education that we provide in schools is a lot different from what they do every day in the classroom. Some of the children who have a hard time with traditional lecturing react differently when we do our Creek Connections activities,” Kedzierski says. “This is another tactile experience for those students.”

Reese believes that the AR sandbox is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hands-on education.

“I believe virtual reality is going to augment the augmented reality,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how the AR software upgrades will add more bells and whistles to the sandbox over the next year or two.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Student/Faculty Summer Research Presented at Geological Society of America Conference

Geology majors Marie Takach ’16 and Mary Statza ’16 presented results of their summer 2014 summer research with Professor of Geology Bob Schwartz at the national Geological Society of America conference in Vancouver, BC, using high-resolution photography and detailed field analyses to document estuary and tidal-dominated shore systems preserved in Early Cretaceous strata in western Montana.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Cole and Willey Give Invited Presentation at Geological Society of America Conference

Professor of Geology Ron Cole and Professor of Physics Dan Willey gave an invited presentation in an educational strategies session at the national Geological Society of America conference in Vancouver, BC. The title of their presentation was “Enhanced Diversity and Retention of Undergraduate STEM Majors at Allegheny College: Outcomes of a National Science Foundation S-STEM Program.” Cole also presented results of NSF-funded scientific research including new hypotheses on volcanism in southern Alaska with contributions by Marie Takach ’16 and colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey, National Taiwan University, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bucknell University, and Lehigh University.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Paper by Bob Schwartz Documents Cretaceous Seaway in Western Montana

Professor of Geology Bob Schwartz presented a paper at the national Geological Society of America conference in Vancouver, BC in collaboration with Susan Vuke of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Their paper documents one of the earliest known Cretaceous seaways in western Montana.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Symposium Reunites Geology Graduates

Geology alumni Michele Cooney ’13, Kristin Egers Carter ’91 and  Jim Castle ’72 reunite at the Geology Alumni Symposium.


Allegheny graduates Jim Castle ’72, Kristin Egers Carter ’91 and Michele Cooney ’13 have more in common than their alma mater.

In addition to pursuing careers in geology – and the obvious fact that all three share last names that begin with the same letter – Castle, Carter and Cooney have served as the last three editors-in-chief of an internationally renowned environmental geosciences journal. Carter passed the torch to Cooney earlier this year.

“It’s pretty amazing to have three generations of Allegheny alumni serving as editors-in-chief of the same journal,” says Carter when referring to their roles for Environmental Geosciences, a publication of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. “The journal has been around for about 20 years, and Michele is probably the youngest editor. I think it says a lot about Allegheny’s geology program.”

The three alumni met on campus during the Allegheny Geology Alumni Symposium held Sept. 26 and 27. The symposium included alumni presentations, meetings and mentoring opportunities for alumni and geology students, a field trip and time for socialization.

According to Ron Cole, geology professor and department chair, he and Roger Willis ’80, a geology major, developed the symposium two years ago as a way for alumni to connect with each other and the department.

“For the past two decades, we have had alumni returning to campus for guest lectures and our geoscience career events, and we consistently hear that they enjoy returning to campus and would like to stay connected,” Cole says. “I credit Roger Willis with the concept of the alumni symposium, providing a balance of professional and social activities. The first symposium in 2013 was a huge success, with more than 40 alumni returning to campus and even more attending in 2014. We’ll have the next symposium in fall 2015 in honor of the Bicentennial, and thereafter we envision having it every other year.”

Alistair Macdonald '83 leads a discussion during the geology alumni field trip.

Alistair Macdonald ’83 leads a discussion during the geology alumni field trip.

Another reason Cole and Willis developed the symposium was to foster student-alumni connections – and Carter and Cooney serve as a primary example. Carter, assistant state geologist with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, first met Cooney when she came back to campus in 2009 to recruit student interns for her organization and to speak about the geology field.

“I like hiring Allegheny interns, they’ve always been reliable and are able to think outside the box,” says Carter, who double-majored in geology and environmental science at Allegheny.

After their first meeting, Carter and Cooney kept in touch, and Cooney was eventually hired as an intern at the Pennsylvania Geological Survey in 2010, the summer after her sophomore year. She was then invited back for a second summer and continued on through part of her senior year.

“My internships actually led into my junior year thesis comp-planning process. Kris gave me the idea to do something on the Utica shale, which was a project the Pennsylvania Geological Survey was researching at the time,” says Cooney, who majored in geology and minored in writing.

“So while I was doing my internship, I also was doing my comp presentation planning. In fact, every Friday I would leave Allegheny and drive down to Pittsburgh to work on research and data as part of my internship and my comp,” she adds. “I was fortunate that I had the unique opportunity to combine my internship and comp experience. Kris even served on the committee of advisers for my senior comp.”

Following Cooney’s graduation, she completed a summer internship at a different organization in Pittsburgh. She then returned to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey as a geologic contractor.

“Kris has been my mentor going on five years now. She’s a great leader,” Cooney says. “She’s also opened many doors for me, including the role as editor-in-chief for Environmental Geosciences and through an organization called the Women’s Energy Network.”

“I love making trips back to Allegheny so I can meet and mentor students like Michele,” Carter adds. “I also like coming back for this symposium because I get to see people like Jim Castle, who is a geology professor at Clemson University and one of my mentors. It really comes full circle.”

Being back on campus brings back memories – especially about Alden Hall – for Carter and Cooney. Looking back on her experience, Cooney says she believes Allegheny prepared her well.

“Allegheny gave me tools such as how to be an independent researcher and worker,” she says. “The amount of research I did at Allegheny also prepared me well for graduate school. I had so many opportunities to do research and then apply that research to the workforce. Those experiences have been invaluable for me as a recent Allegheny graduate.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Geology Guest Lecture September 11, 2014

Pizza Talk
Alden Hall, Room 210
12:15 – 1:15 pm

Joel Starr, EQT Productions
Curvature Analysis to Quantify Strain in the Marcellus Shale

Geology Major and Minors – Graduate School Seminar

Thinking about graduate school and don’t know where to start?  This seminar will provide you with the pertinent information regarding the application process for graduate schools.  Topics such as:  choosing an institution and advisor, Master’s v. PhD, letters of recommendation, personal statements, internships, and campus resources are some of the topics that will be covered.  The seminar will be held on Friday, September 19, 2014, 3:00 to 4:00 pm in Alden Hall, Room 207.  Coffee/tea and cookies will be provided.  For more information contact Prof. Misner (tmisner@allegheny.edu).

Geology Alumni Symposium 2014

 Alumni field trip, 2013

Join in for the Allegheny Geo Alumni Symposium 2014!
September 26-27 (Friday to Saturday).

Sign Up Here

The first symposium in 2013 was a great success with over 40 alumni reconnecting professionally and socially. Thanks to the motivation and support of Roger Willis (’80)!

The presentations for the 2013 symposium included:

• Career paths in and out of the geosciences
• The role of algae in mass extinctions
• Groundwater remediation and contaminant transport
• Field course for BP hires
• Marcellus shale perspectives
• Reconstructing Great Lake levels
• Nano-technologies for agriculture
• Regulatory geology
• Hominid trackways in Tanzania

This year the symposium will have an expanded venue, including:

      ♦  Alumni and student presentations on Friday and Saturday
      ♦ Saturday field trip on glacial geomorphology
      ♦ Opportunities for student mentoring
      ♦  Dinner at one of Meadville’s brew pubs

Student posters and alumni social hour in Alden Hall, 2013

Student posters and alumni social hour in Alden Hall, 2013

Interested in attending, giving a presentation, mentoring a student?   Please visit www.allegheny.edu/geologyalumnisymposium by Wednesday Sept 10 to RSVP.