Students Present Work at Geological Society of America Meeting

Members of the Allegheny College Geology Club attended the Annual Geological Society of America Meeting in Baltimore on November 1-4. Geology majors Anna Lesko ’16 and Marie Takach ’16 — with co-authors Connor McCoy ’17 and Camille Sicker ’17 — presented posters highlighting their senior research project results.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Rock-Solid Education Leads to Prestigious Fellowship


Since spending time in Allegheny’s geology department, Douglas Barber ’13 knew he someday wanted to pursue a Ph.D.

In March, Barber learned he would receive some extra support to help him achieve that dream.

Barber, who is studying geology at the University of Texas at Austin, received a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). He was one of 2,000 individuals chosen for the Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program from among 16,500 applicants in 2015.

According to Allegheny Assistant Professor of Geology Theresa Schwartz ’10, who also is a past NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, the award gives beginning graduate students many degrees of freedom that they may not otherwise have.

“In the sciences, grad students often ‘earn their keep’ in their departments as teaching assistants for classes and research assistants in lab facilities. The NSF GRF frees students from these duties for up to three years by providing tuition and a substantial stipend, as well as miscellaneous travel awards, small sums of research money, etc.,” she says. “For the first three years of grad school, I didn’t have teaching or lab obligations and didn’t have to submit grant proposals to cover my costs, so I could focus solely on coursework and research.

“Doug will benefit greatly from winning this award, and will be able to dedicate his time and energy to his personal research, rather than running lab facilities,” she adds. “Winning the GRF is a fantastic opportunity for any student pursuing a graduate degree.”

We spoke to Barber, who majored in geology and minored in economics at Allegheny, about this honor and about how the College helped him to prepare for his career:

How does it feel to be one of 2,000 individuals to have received this fellowship?
I was very shocked when I found out I had been awarded a fellowship. I am still in disbelief. This was my third and final attempt at applying, and it definitely felt satisfying to see the persistence and hard work over these years pay off.

Most of all I feel extremely grateful and indebted to all of those who have helped me along the process and provided letters of recommendation, especially Dr. Daniel Stockli (current adviser at the University of Texas), Dr. Bob Schwartz (undergraduate mentor at Allegheny) and Dr. Mazin Tamar-Agha (research collaborator at the University of Baghdad in Iraq).

What does it mean to have received this fellowship?
The NSF award supports graduate students in technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in the United States. Being selected as a fellow of this program means several things. First of all, it provides a three-year annual stipend along with a full cost-of-tuition allowance and the freedom to conduct my own research at any U.S. graduate institution of my choice. It also provides other benefits only open to awardees such as career development programs, international research opportunities and scientific internships at federal facilities and national laboratories.

To me, this award provides the flexibility and resources for me to pursue the research that interests me most and removes barriers to me achieving a career that is most suited for my passions and skills. For example, I no longer have to serve as a teaching assistant in order to secure funding, and I am guaranteed summer support, thus freeing up a large portion of my daily schedule.

What did you have to do to apply? Did you work with anyone at Allegheny during the process?
The application is relatively short but requires a lot of critical thought. In addition to a résumé and transcripts, you have to provide a two-page research proposal and a three-page personal statement and have to get three people to submit letters of recommendation on your behalf. The most difficult part is that in just two pages you have to describe your entire Ph.D. project to your reader and convince him/her that your research will have greater intellectual impact and benefit to society than 16,000 other applicants.

Dr. Bob Schwartz (Allegheny geology department) has been particularly helpful for me in getting this award. He has provided me with scientific discussion and critical feedback on my proposals over the years, helping me to perfect my application. More importantly, the research skills and knowledge I have gained over the years working with Bob Schwartz in the field and lab provided me an invaluable foundation and passion for this science, ultimately driving many of the ideas and organization of my awarded proposal.

What are you doing now?
I am living in Austin enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Texas, which is one of the top five geoscience graduate programs in the nation. I am working on an industry-sponsored research project in the Iraqi Zagros Mountains in Kurdistan, and I am also involved in other laboratory technique-development research that we are applying to the Zagros project. During the semesters I take classes and attend conferences and meetings. This summer I will be doing field work in eastern Turkey and hopefully Iraqi Kurdistan barring unforeseen political circumstances.

How did Allegheny prepare you for your career?
There are three main attributes of Allegheny that have provided me with an exceptional foundation to succeed in graduate school and my career. These include the strong emphasis on experiential learning and undergraduate research, the tremendous quality and accountability of faculty and the focus on effective scientific communication.

In particular, I most benefited from the student-faculty research program supported by the Christine Scott Nelson Faculty Support Fund at Allegheny. Through these student-faculty research experiences, I was able to spend two summers conducting field research in Montana alongside Dr. Bob Schwartz and various other collaborators and students. This also gave me the opportunity to present at multiple national conferences and travel to conduct lab work at some of the top analytical facilities in the nation. Overall, this has been the most important experience during my undergraduate tenure in terms of skill and knowledge development, networking, fostering a passion for geologic research and ultimately preparing me for doctoral research. I would highly recommend the continuation and expansion of such student-faculty research programs at Allegheny!

Also, I have to thank Drs. Ron Cole, Rachel O’Brien, Tamara Misner and Jack Meeder of the geology department for greatly contributing to my educational development and passion for geology. Lastly, the geology department (and Allegheny as a whole) has a strong emphasis on written communication – having developed this skill definitely serves as a major advantage when writing research proposals such as those for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Downsize and Upgrade: A Tiny House Story

Laurie in the Loft2

Since 2013, freelance artist Laurie Hughes ’79 has been thinking small, very small.

Over the past year, she has been building her tiny house: a 6 ½-by-14-foot home and studio built on a towable trailer. For the former Allegheny geology student, this micro, movable home reduces her impact on the environment and offers liberating practicality.

Without the commitment of a mortgage and laborious maintenance of a traditional home, Hughes is free to explore, visit friends, and spend more time focusing on her artwork, which she will sell along her travels in her adorable abode.

Hughes has been detailing her experience on her blog,, sharing photos and memories of the building process, which has become something of a community affair: “Numerous friends and acquaintances have helped me in various ways with my project,” she said, mentioning that friends have donated everything from insulation to windows to their company and talents.

“My good friend Kyle Meadows has been the homebuilder extraordinaire on the project, and his wife, a blacksmith, created a gorgeous hammered copper shower pan for me,” said Hughes. “Although I have only had a handful of group workdays, my experience of building the house is definitely one of community. Not only did my father and my mother each, through their estates, provide me with some of the wherewithal to help me finance the project, but countless friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers have had their ears bent for advice, information, ideas and favors.”

The result of this community effort is Laurie’s 138-square-foot home and studio, fully wired with basic amenities, and complete with glass display cases and an empty six-foot tall wall to showcase her artwork. Now, with the exterior of the house complete, Hughes and her team are beginning to install repurposed furniture and cabinets to finish the interior.

Before moving in, Hughes also must face the daunting chore of giving away or getting rid of all items that would create clutter in the new house. “My process of minimizing has been slow; I am virtually certain my tiny house will be finished before my apartment is empty!” Hughes admits.

Her collection of art books and some of her artwork will be housed with various friends and she plans to rotate art supplies in and out of a storage unit in Covington, Ky., though the thoughtfully designed spaces within her home will store all of the necessities that complete her mobile home and studio. There is storage for supplies hidden in and above the window seat, the design of the kitchen allows for silk dyeing, even the bathroom accommodates her artistry: the compostable toilet unit can be moved to make way for a pottery wheel.

Hughes and her cat, Minnie, are planning to hit the open road in their tiny house in the coming months, visiting friends, family, and Gators on a loop through Kentucky and Ohio, upstate New York, western Massachusetts, Connecticut, and through Pennsylvania (with a hopeful stop in Meadville), all with the peace of mind that, “I see my tiny house as a nest, really, providing me with essential shelter and workspace. With my tiny house, barring catastrophe, I will always have somewhere to call my own.”

More about Hughes’ tiny house can be found on her blog along with photos of the construction progress and the adventures along the way.

– Elizabeth Donaldson ’15 

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Just Learning in the Sand

AR 4

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.

Read more.

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.”

Read the full story.

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