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UW-Eau Claire Geology Students
Go West for Capstone Experience
MAILED: Oct. 26, 1999|
Seniors majoring in geology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire can spend up to six weeks conducting research in field camps out West as part of their capstone experience an experience that faculty say few other geology departments in the country offer.
In the field, students first make simple observations, such as surveying and collecting rocks, said Dr. J. Brian Mahoney, a geology professor and capstone instructor. They then do more complex work, such as analyzing data and mapping geologic formations, Mahoney said. Mahoney and Dr. Bradford Burton, assistant geology professor, took 17 students to New Mexico in January and eight students to Montana this past summer to work on their capstone projects.
The students prepare geologic maps and interpretations in the field. In addition, they use state-of-the-art technology, including Global Positioning Systems and cutting edge geologic software such as Arc View, a Geographic Information Systems program, Mahoney said.
"The entire field camp is computerized," Mahoney said. "We collect data in the field in the traditional sense, which entails hiking across the countryside and using topographic maps to sketch out the geology of the region."
After the students have sketched and noted the information by hand, they digitize everything using a spatial data analysis system that allows them to put information into three dimensions, Mahoney said. Having the maps computerized allows for the capability to reproduce and scale maps and to bring in maps from other areas to create a larger map, he said.
UW-Eau Claire is among the first schools in the country to have a completely computerized field camp, he said.
"Students can put on their resumes that they have combined geologic field experience with GIS techniques after taking this course, which puts them head and shoulders above the other students in the field," said Mahoney, noting that it's unusual for undergraduates to work with traditional geologic and computer mapping. "It's already getting these guys jobs."
Jean Morrison, a senior geology major from Neillsville, said that in New Mexico she gained computer software skills and became familiar with other aspects of geology such as field note-taking, mapping and general map reading.
"I think this was a very worthwhile experience," Morrison said. "It gave me hands-on knowledge that I could never have learned in a classroom. In a classroom the concepts and ideas are taught, but in the field you have to observe what is around you using the concepts and then interpret what has happened."
Mahoney said UW-Eau Claire's fully computerized camps are being used as models by other institutions.
"People from all over the country are very interested in how we started this program," said Mahoney. "San Diego State University is basing their program on our model."
The geology department split the six-week capstone course into two three-week sessions to give students a more comprehensive experience by studying in two different environments, Mahoney said. Also, the department decided it made sense to split the six-week field session, allowing students to apply what they learn in the field to classroom coursework, he said.
Students can do the full six weeks or do the first three-week session plus an independent research project with a professor either will fulfill the capstone requirement.
Mahoney said what's most important is that "this experience takes the student's education from the abstract to the realistic."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Oct. 26, 1999