My Path to Geology

This post is long overdue for Brian’s initial Accretionary Wedge geology blog carnival (I was leading a Mineralogy field trip to the Black Hills that weekend), but better late than never…

The author as a geology protege...
Maybe I was always destined to become a geologist. I spent my childhood in New Jersey and I was fortunate to grow up in a family that took many weekend outings and travelled to various destinations for summer vacations. At an early age I owned a rock hammer and a Golden Guide to Rocks and Minerals (I still have the latter). As you can see in the photograph at right I was an enthusiastic rockhound (and Mets fan) even as a kid – note the lack of eye protection as I swing the rock hammer at an overhanging outcrop (probably in the Poconos) as my sister and cousin look on. I specifically remember childhood trips to the mineral dump at Franklin, New Jersey and the boulder field at Hickory Run State Park in Pennsylvania and collecting fossil shells in the Poconos and Shawangunks, though it seems that none of those early collections survives to the current day.

Although I outgrew the rock collecting phase as a kid, I continued to develop a strong affinity for nature and travel. Family vacations eventually took me to many of America’s National Parks as well as many state parks and other natural attractions – many with interesting geologic origins. Through Boy Scouting I developed a strong love of hiking and camping. (I am an Eagle Scout, though I never earned the Geology merit badge.) In high school I had earth science in eighth grade – I still fondly remeber Mr. Begin’s class (“L-waves knock the ‘L’ out of you.”). In eleventh grade I took Mr. Molnar’s elective “Earth and Sky” class – a semester split between basic geology, weather, and astronomy – definitely one of my favorite high school classes. I distinctly remember the Saturday morning of the PSATs that fall, when I woke up to feel the house gently swaying – I immediately knew I was feeling an earthquake – from a small tremor on the Ramapo Fault. Despite my fondness for Earth Science I graduated high school with no appreciation of the job prospects in the geosciences and thus I focused on my strong dual interests in physics and history/political science.

I enrolled at Colgate in the fall of 1987 with the intent to major in physics (I couldn’t see any likely job prospects for a political science degree other than being a politician). By a stroke of good luck (or was it intelligent design?) Colgate required first year students to take a “freshman seminar” – a writing intensive course. They specifically encouraged students to take a class that interested them but was not in the subject of their major. I chose to take the “Origins of Mountain Belts” seminar offered by Art Goldstein. It wasn’t long before Physics was beating me down, while I was discovering that there geology was really a serious science (not just “Rocks for Jocks”), with good job prospects to boot. Within that first year I went from figuring on a Physics major with a math minor, to Physics major-Geology minor, to Geology major-Physics minor and finally (after getting a D- in the third semester of Physics) to settling on Geology major-Math minor. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do in geology at first, but ultimately I decided I enjoyed petrology and structural geology about equally, and I couldn’t help but be attracted to college teaching as a career. My many field experiences at Colgate (J-terms in Arizona and Southern Nevada and field camp in the Adirondacks and New England) cemented my love for geology. Ultimately I went off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my masters and Ph.D., working on a teconics/geochemistry/isotope geology project on the offset history of the San Andreas Fault in California, and I’ve been teaching geology in one capacity or another for just over a decade now.

Needless to say, I love what I do, and I hope I can go on doing it for a long time!

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