Geosciences graduates earn professional experience with elite USGS internships

By , June 3, 2011
Cody MasonThis summer, Cody Mason will be exploring his options while sharpening his professional skills by doing geologic mapping for the United States Geologic Survey in the geologic region known as the northern Rio Grande Rift. “It essentially consists of the area from Taos, New Mexico, all the way north to around Leadville, Colorado,” Mason explains. “It is some of the most beautiful country around.”

That’s a valuable opportunity for someone who just earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Geology in April. Mason, from Durango, Colorado, is getting this chance to work alongside professional geologists in the USGS thanks to an internship award from the federal agency.

“My work this summer could firm up my desire to continue with field-based geology, or it might push me toward lab-based research such as geochronology,” says Mason. “Whatever happens, I’m sure my internship will be a huge stepping stone for my career in geosciences.”

In April, Mason and fellow 2011 Geology graduate Sabina Kraushaar won internships with the National Association of Geoscience Teachers-U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Summer Field Training Program, the nation’s longest continuously running internship program in the earth sciences. More than 2,000 students have participated in the program over its 46-year history, with many having gone on to distinuished careers in academia and industry, and with the USGS and other agencies.

“The program offers a first-rate professional experience for students, which can really jump-start their careers and potentially influence their future career path,” says Geosciences Professor Ray Kenny. “It’s an excellent and well-respected experiential program that provides the highest possible training and experience.”

Sabina KrausharMason’s and Kraushaar’s awards also mark the first time that Fort Lewis students have been selected for this prestigious opportunity to take an active role in professional research. Only one other student from a Colorado school was chosen for this year’s internships.

Local geology summer field camp directors, like Kenny, nominate students for the internships. Nominated students apply by sending a resume, a letter of interest, and transcripts to the USGS. Candidates are then matched by their course work, skill and interest with projects, and the listing of candidates and their academic information are sent to USGS scientists for review, interviews, and selection. The USGS scientist with whom the intern will work makes the final intern selection.

“I will be in Menlo Park, California, which is just south of San Francisco, doing geophysical surveys looking for groundwater and geothermal aquifers, as well as natural hazards monitoring,” says Kraushaar, also from Durango. “I am hoping to learn some new skills, as well as some more geology. And I will be working with senior geologists all summer, so hopefully they will also pass on some wisdom.”

And those skills, knowledge, and wisdom will be immediately useful, Kraushaar adds. “I am going to get my Master’s at University of Nevada in Reno next year, and my research project will be dealing with geothermal energy exploration. So this will be great experience to have.”

Publishing opens doors for student researchers

Undergraduate research at Fort Lewis College is earning students valuable recognition and big boosts for their resumes thanks to a research journal focusing on student research at liberal arts colleges.

Sara BombaciThe Spring 2011 edition of Metamorphosis features papers based on research by two Fort Lewis students. Sara Bombaci, who graduated in April 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, published her research on the effects of Sudden Aspen Decline Syndrome on bird communities. The college’s research on this climate-change issue has received national attention, including stories in The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, and Science News. Tamara Calnan’s research explored how people’s fear of death affects their stances on U.S. immigration policy. Calnan earned her Bachelor’s in Psychology in December 2010.

“One of the greatest things I gained from this was the ability to cultivate a project and see it through,” Bombaci says. “There were the side benefits, too. I got great research experience, I got a great resume for grad school, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with faculty.” This summer, Bombaci is working as a teaching assistant for a field ecology course at FLC, while working with a local forestry consulting firm. She is also assisting with a study on the effects of gas well-pad noise pollution on birds.

Calnan agrees with the value of going through the process of preparing her work for a research journal. “Getting published gave me a flavor for what it might be like to do this for a living — researching and publishing,” says Calnan, who is planning to travel and teach abroad before applying for graduate programs. “It definitely makes me want to do it even more than I did before.”

Metamorphosis is a national web-based journal for undergraduate research published by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. In the liberal arts tradition, content is interdisciplinary, stressing critical thinking and examining issues from a variety of angles. The journal focuses exclusively on undergraduate research, offering the credibility usually reserved for only post-graduate students and faculty.

The two-year-old journal posts new issues each Fall and Spring and is open to projects ranging from English composition to laboratory research to video work. Published items are archived and searchable for later reference.

“It’s invaluable experience,” says Associate Professor of Psychology Brian Burke. “Through Metamorphosis, undergraduate students get to see how the publishing process works. They submit a proposal, we make suggestions for changes, then they work with their faculty to edit it and return it to us.”

Burke is chair of the Fort Lewis selection committee for the journal. The committee gathers  submissions from Fort Lewis students, selects two each term, then submits them for publication. Burke says he looks for papers that are useful, have some sort of impact, and are well researched and written.

“A lot of students don’t understand that creative thinking and writing is a multi-step process,” says Burke, who mentored Calnan on her published paper. “Through this, they get to participate in this process. Plus, it’s a great vita-builder.”

Visit Metamorphosis here.

Undergrad research leads Biochemistry grad Matt Aronoff to Ph.D. program

Matt Aronoff

Matt Aronoff will enter the Ph.D. program in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin this Fall

I’ll be starting in the Fall in a Ph.D. program in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. The confidence that resulted from my experience at Fort Lewis played a large part in my going on to graduate school. I didn’t have a lot of confidence after my first bachelor’s degree at another college. My grades weren’t great. So, being in a place where I could really excel, where I could not only do well and get good grades, but where I really felt I was learning a lot and getting to know the material, has benefited me.

Things that helped me at Fort Lewis were the class sizes, classmates, and the faculty. The faculty is top notch, and being able to interact with quality professors one-on-one was really valuable. I feel like I learned a tremendous amount from that. One of the best things about Fort Lewis is the small class sizes. You’re free to ask questions, and you’re able to talk to professors in their office hours. And the other students are serious about what they are learning, but at the same time everyone is willing to help everyone else. There’s a great sense of community here.
Before I came here, I knew that Fort Lewis had a good reputation in chemistry and in the sciences in general. But being able to work on research projects here that were successful inspired a lot of confidence, too, and without that I would not have been as prepared for grad school. I gained a lot of perspective for what I’m getting into. Without a doubt, I have a leg up on just about anyone else who will start with me in the Fall by just being more comfortable in the lab.
I’ve done biochemistry research looking at proteins and how their interactions affect genetic transcription. The other research I’ve done involved synthetic organic chemistry. I worked on molecules made by soil bacteria and it turns out it’s a really effective antibacterial. I got to work one-on-one with Dr. Kenny Miller, so that was great experience. After that research, I certainly gained a greater level of respect for the type of work I’ll do in grad school. Combined with the liberal arts background from Fort Lewis, I’m going into graduate school really well rounded.
When I looked at graduate programs, I tried to find places that in one way or another embodied the mentality of Fort Lewis. My ultimate goal is to be a professor. Ten years from now, it would be my dream to come back to Fort Lewis and teach here.

I’ll be starting in the Fall in a Ph.D. program in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. The confidence that resulted from my experience at Fort Lewis played a large part in my going on to graduate school. I didn’t have a lot of confidence after my first bachelor’s degree at another college. My grades weren’t great. So, being in a place where I could really excel, where I could not only do well and get good grades, but where I really felt I was learning a lot and getting to know the material, has benefited me.

Things that helped me at Fort Lewis were the class sizes, classmates, and the faculty. The faculty is top notch, and being able to interact with quality professors one-on-one was really valuable. I feel like I learned a tremendous amount from that. One of the best things about Fort Lewis is the small class sizes. You’re free to ask questions, and you’re able to talk to professors in their office hours. And the other students are serious about what they are learning, but at the same time everyone is willing to help everyone else. There’s a great sense of community here.

Before I came here, I knew that Fort Lewis had a good reputation in chemistry and in the sciences in general. But being able to work on research projects here that were successful inspired a lot of confidence, too, and without that I would not have been as prepared for grad school. I gained a lot of perspective for what I’m getting into. Without a doubt, I have a leg up on just about anyone else who will start with me in the Fall by just being more comfortable in the lab.

I’ve done biochemistry research looking at proteins and how their interactions affect genetic transcription. The other research I’ve done involved synthetic organic chemistry. I worked on molecules made by soil bacteria and it turns out it’s a really effective antibacterial. I got to work one-on-one with Dr. Kenny Miller, so that was great experience. After that research, I certainly gained a greater level of respect for the type of work I’ll do in grad school. Combined with the liberal arts background from Fort Lewis, I’m going into graduate school really well rounded.

When I looked at graduate programs, I tried to find places that in one way or another embodied the mentality of Fort Lewis. My ultimate goal is to be a professor. Ten years from now, it would be my dream to come back to Fort Lewis and teach here.

‘Look out world, here I come!’: ’80 alum Linda Day felt confident at graduation that she would succeed in business – and she did

By , February 18, 2010

In 2005, Linda Day (Cooper) surprised her husband, Steve, with a trip to Durango for his 50th birthday. After graduating from Fort Lewis College in 1980 (Linda) and 1978 (Steve), the Days had never been back to Durango together…and having met their sophomore year, Linda figured there was no better way to celebrate Steve’s milestone birthday than to return to the place where the two met. “When we landed, we didn’t even check into the hotel—we drove straight to campus,” recalls Linda. “Durango still feels like home to us in a lot of ways. Fort Lewis was a special place to start our relationship.”

A Littleton native, Linda chose Fort Lewis because it was far enough from home she could spread her wings, but had the added benefit of in-state tuition. “I remember immediately feeling that I was part of this tight community,” says Linda, who adds that she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of her education as well. “I learned to think in a completely different way. Because of the liberal arts aspect, I took classes I never would have thought to take.” One of those classes was a business course, after which Linda decided to change her major from elementary education to business.

After graduating, Linda stayed in Durango for five years, enjoying life and working at the Strater Hotel, but it wasn’t until her and Steve’s first child was born in 1985 that she settled happily into her most important job: motherhood. In 1987, after short stints in Tennessee and Maryland, the couple moved to Portland, and when her daughters were in elementary school, Linda began working part-time at a Red Lion Inn. In 1996, Linda became an office manager for a plumbing company, handling all of its day-to-day operations and bookkeeping duties. “I ended up being so efficient that I got the job down to about five hours a week,” says Linda. Word spread of her abilities and before long, Linda had a handful of Portland-area clients that kept her busy for five hours a day all the way through her daughters’ high school years.

When her youngest daughter headed off to college in 2005, Linda decided to grow her business, ignoring the fact that she was attempting to do so in the worst economic period in U.S. history. Today, Linda has a successful consulting business of 15 clients. Her pitch? “I save companies money,” Linda says. “I streamline processes and replace a full-time person’s salary. These days, what company doesn’t need that?”

Linda says it was more than an education, but a solid foundation that set her up to succeed. “I remember leaving Fort Lewis very confident that I could do well in just about any position with such a well-rounded business degree,” says Linda. “The atmosphere there is so positive, and the interaction with professors is so personal that I think students can’t help but walk out the door saying, ‘Look out world, here I come.’”

Even after living in Portland for 22 years, Linda says that Durango will forever hold a special place in her heart. “When I think back on my Fort Lewis experience, the two words that come to mind are ‘family’ and ‘community,’” says Linda. “Portland is similar to Colorado in that way, but there is nowhere in the world like Durango.”

‘How did they travel here?’ Zachary Kurka’s curiosity about remote town of Silverton gives him the idea for his History thesis

Fort Lewis College U.S. history major Zachary Kurka is a curious guy. On a visit to Silverton a few years ago, Zachary found himself intrigued by the town’s history. “I remember wandering around town, reading the historical markers and looking at pictures, and thinking, ‘How did these people get around? How did they travel here?’” he recalled. “Silverton is a remote place with very rugged surroundings, and when you see a huge piece of heavy equipment, you can’t help but wonder how it would have gotten there 100 or more years ago.”

Years later, when the time came for Zachary to choose a topic for his Senior Seminar thesis required of all Fort Lewis history majors, he knew exactly what he wanted to write about. “My idea was to compare transportation as a privatized service back in the mid to late 1800s to the socialized public transportation we’re used to today,” Zachary said. In his thesis, “Paving the Way: The San Juans’ Challenge of Creating Transport Systems in a Capitalist Era,” Zachary examined the developing transportation infrastructure of the San Juan mining towns that ultimately led to the investment in the region by entrepreneurs with deep pockets (and accordingly, the growth of the area’s mining industry).

Zachary’s early research led him to the newspapers, which frequently covered the happenings of the development along what became the Alpine Loop Byway—the 65-mile route through the northern San Juan Mountains. “Travelling in such a rugged area had unique challenges, and the newspapers were always writing about avalanches or washed-out roads or other problems caused by the geographic conditions and weather,” said Zachary. “Also, until this time, development like this was typically funded by financiers from the east coast, but they all looked at the San Juans as a bad investment—another topic written about in the papers. That forced development to take on a new model.” That model relied on local funding in order to develop roads and other transportation networks to serve the growing permanent population. It wasn’t until the 1880s and 90s, however, that the railroads arrived to the region.

Knowing that grant money was available for student research, Zachary began investigating the grant process almost immediately. “I knew that some of the better archives I’d need for my topic were not here in Durango,” Zachary said. “A lot of the best materials had to stay where they were, so I knew I’d need to travel to make copies of things.” Zachary was awarded $700, which he used toward two five-day trips to Denver. He spent his first visit delving into the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy collection, and the second returning to the library and combing through the Colorado History Museum’s archive. One source Zachary needed, however, was only available at the University of Wyoming’s library in Laramie and due to copyright restrictions, could not be copied and mailed to him. A mountain bike racer, Zachary made a special trip to the library after biking in a competition in the area. “I had to get my hands on it somehow,” he laughed.

The more he researched, the more Zachary came to realize that in some ways, he was a pioneer: Very few had evaluated the development of transportation systems in the San Juan region. “I couldn’t read up on other’s perspectives because there weren’t any,” Zachary said. “Instead, I read as many firsthand sources as I could find and interpreted things myself.”

Zachary credited his preceding coursework with teaching him invaluable research techniques. “Dr. [Michael] Martin’s class, “Philosophy and Methods,” really set me on the right path and taught me to break down my research methods, to look at the topic from a variety of angles, and to distinguish good research from bad,” Zachary said. “I also gained a lot from taking [the course] “Inventing America” at the same time that I was doing research. It was interesting to understand the attitudes in D.C. at that time and reflect on how the presidential administration affected what was going on in the West.” His advisor, Dr. John Baranski, helped Zachary develop a plan to dive into the wealth of information he would find in the Denver Public Library’s archives. “Dr. Baranski offered a lot of helpful advice on how I should approach archive research to be as efficient as possible.”

Without a doubt, Zachary concluded that the endeavor earned the designation of “the most challenging and in-depth project I’ve ever done in my education.” As for the importance of his research? “Nobody had taken the angle I did,” Zachary said. “The greatest implication of it all is that a region such as this one is incredibly reliant on a good transportation system in order to progress. The price that the community pays to develop one may either assist or cripple them—it just isn’t a simple answer.”

Though Zachary admitted that his research and thesis might not be directly applicable to his future career path—he’s spending the current term student teaching at Durango High School, thereafter seeking a full-time teaching position—he learned a great deal from the experience. “This project really taught me that history is a lot more complex than what you read in a textbook,” Zachary said. “For me, it raised the importance of asking ‘why.’ In fact, it’s just as important—if not more so—to ask ‘why’ as it is to understand the ‘who, what, when and where’ when you look at history. I think that is something I can instill in my own students one day.”

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