Allegheny Senior Awarded Grant for Environmental Research


Allegheny College senior Alexandrea Rice has been awarded a Davey Foundation Annual Arbor Grant for her work in eco-friendly research. Rice is an environmental science major, with a focus in forest and soil science, and a geology minor.

“The award is a testament to Alex’s work as an undergraduate in (Professor) Rich Bowden’s lab on a green-industry approach to forestry and arboriculture,” says Scott Wissinger, chair of Allegheny’s Environmental Science Department.

The Davey Tree Expert Co. provides the grants yearly to about 50 college-enrolled students who focus on forestry, agriculture or another green industry. Over the past 25 years, the Davey Foundation has provided more than $500,000 of support to students for their academic work.

Rice says the $1,000 grant has allowed her to be more focused on her studies without having to take time away for a job. She is currently developing her senior comprehensive project, which investigates how acid rain affects soil’s ability to retain important forest nutrients. Bowden, her advisor, says Rice has been highly independent, praising how she “has been industrious in gathering her field soil samples and performing soil extractions.”

Rice has participated in projects outside of Allegheny as well, such as spending a semester at the Ecosystems Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and working as a research assistant in Alaska in the summer of 2016. She also has worked on an independent research project looking into changes in fungal communities in response to nitrogen deposition, both at the Harvard Forest and Allegheny’s Bousson Experimental Forest.

“She is passionate about forest ecosystems and has always been among the first to volunteer for fieldwork related to our climate-change studies,” Bowden says. “She brings an inquisitive personality blended with a delightful confidence, sincere humility and spunk.”

After graduation, Rice plans to attend graduate school. But she hopes first to spend the summer of 2017 conducting climate-change research on the effects of permafrost thaw on ecosystem nutrient cycling.

“Out of all the good that a person can do, I think the most a person can contribute is to the knowledge and understanding of the planet so that we can enact ways of prolonging its life,” says Rice, a Pittsburgh resident. “I am in this industry and science not just because I enjoy being outside in the forest, but because I want to educate the world about the importance and critical role that forests play in our lives. By protecting them we are providing a future for our children to grow from.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Student Sings to Help Save Lives


Brett Trottier ’19 has been playing his guitar and singing in the lobby of the Allegheny College Campus Center since he returned from Thanksgiving break. The most recent evidence: groups of students taken to occasionally filming, mostly staring, and enthusiastically applauding.

Trottier is a member of the Philanthropic Committee of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, presided over by Mark Abrams ’18, which has set its sights on prostate cancer research. In a project spearheaded by Trottier, Abrams, Alex Bakus ’17, and Milton Guevara ’18, a GoFundMe web page was created. It also includes a promotional video championed by Michael Ross ’18.

The campaign has raised more than $1,000 so far.

As an added incentive to get community members to donate, members of the fraternity have pledged to shave their heads. Several fund thresholds have been established, starting at $1,000 and going up to $3,000, and with each one met, a greater number of Deltas have pledged to assume the bald-is-beautiful look. “I’m so excited. I’ve never done it, but I’ll probably look like an alien,” says Trottier, who is a geology major and political science minor.

A second incentive to donate: Trottier’s voice echoing pleasantly up and down the three floors of the Henderson Campus Center. Belting out tunes such as “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” “Stand by Me,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” Trottier plays for an hour during the lunch rush at McKinley’s dining hall. Ross also joins him for some performances. This portion of the fundraiser has raised more than $120 in the past week.

Other philanthropic events organized throughout the year included a “Grilled Cheese Soiree” and a “French Toast Dinner.” The deadline for contributions is December 6, so think about sharing the holiday spirit and helping out Trottier and the Deltas here.

Photo of Brett Trottier by Joseph Merante ’20

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Geology Department represents Allegheny at National Geological Society of America meeting

The Allegheny Geology Department was well represented at the September 2016 National Geological Society of America meeting in Denver, Colo.

Assistant Professor Theresa Schwartz gave an invited talk about her ongoing work regarding the paleoclimate and paleotopography of the northern Rocky Mountains. She also co-presented a poster with colleagues regarding the evolution of coastal California during Eocene time. Visiting Professor Matt Carter gave a talk entitled “Borehole image logs: A powerful tool for improved subsurface geological interpretation”. Provost and Professor of Geology Ron Cole gave an invited talk on magmatism and mountain building cycles in south-central Alaska; he was a co-author on two additional presentations. Marie Takach ’15 presented a poster on her senior project on geochemical constraints on temporal trends in magma composition along the Alaska peninsula. Takach was a co-author on three additional presentations, including Cole’s invited talk.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

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

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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.

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