By Roxana Rivera ‘18
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – To a volcanic geologist, it might not get much better than this. Several Middlebury students and two faculty members from the geology department are spending winter term trekking through caves and over volcanoes as part of the new course “Field Geology in Active Tectonic Environments.” Professors Peter Ryan and Kristina Walowski are leading the class.
“It’s been amazing for me to be able to hike and look at rocks and teach students about those rocks that I have only seen in textbooks before and that I’ve taught in the classroom,” said Walowski, who is on her first trip to Costa Rica as a geoscientist. Ryan, whose primary areas of research include the mineralogy and geochemistry of soil evolution in the moist tropics of Costa Rica is a veteran traveler to the region. He also arranged for the class to work with a local colleague, Guillermo Alvarado, for a rare opportunity to work in the field with a preeminent volcanologist.
“I signed up for this course because it’s an opportunity to study geology in a unique environment where I don’t normally get to go,” said Matt Barr ’17.5. As his final academic term at Middlebury nears the end, Barr said he’s grateful for the chance to experience an environment so different from Middlebury.
Morgan McGlashon ’18 agreed. “All of my field classes and geology classes have been at Middlebury and in Vermont, so this has been a good opportunity to see geology in a different part of the world,” she said. McGlashon said it was particularly exciting to see how skills she learned in other classes could transfer to a new location, despite the vast differences between Vermont and Costa Rica.
Liesel Robbins ’18 says her favorite part of the course is being able to “live geology 24/7” and get a real taste what the life of a geologist could be like. She says that field work is the “gold of geology” and loves the fact that she can do it for three weeks.
Despite a few bumps, Walowski says the first-time course has gone well. She’s been impressed with what her students were making out of the experience, often in challenging rainy conditions. Students have immersed themselves in the experience and worked well in groups of varying experience levels.
“Being able to teach every day provides that unique opportunity where you really are immersed in the field science in a way that you just can’t be when you have other classes to take,” Walowski said. “As a geologist, going into the field is one of the most important things.”