Rachel O’Brien

Just a year after Rachel O’Brien was hired as a geology professor at Allegheny, she proposed a new class…in the dance department. The result is fast becoming an Allegheny and Meadville tradition: Every Wednesday night Allegheny students, faculty and staff, their families, and members of the larger Meadville community take part in lively, fast-paced contra dancing that traces its roots to the British Isles.

“This is really about community building,” says Dr. O’Brien. “We have people from the ages of seven to 70 dancing, and we have to work as a group. We laugh together, we make mistakes together, we learn together.”

In her day job, Dr. O’Brien teaches courses in physical geology and advises senior projects on subjects ranging from mapping glacial deposits to designing after-school geology classes. Here, too, community is vital to Professor O’Brien as she encourages her students to do fieldwork on local issues. All the while, Dr. O’Brien is actively pursuing her own research into the comparative rates of mineral dissolution in groundwater.

When asked if she sees any sort of contradiction between being a geologist and a dancer, Professor O’Brien responds: “These are all different facets of my life, and I don’t want to live without them…it’s who I’ve become…it’s how I sing my song. It’s the Allegheny ethos to support and encourage this kind of interdisciplinary activity—for students as well as faculty.”