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Geology field camp provides experience

As commodities such as gold and oil increase in value, the demand rises for those who know how to explore the land to find them, and also to make sure that those resources are developed in a responsible and sustainable way.

“Everything we use in our industrialized society is extracted from the earth,” said Department of Geography-Geology Chair David Malone. “Geologists have the basic skills to know what’s beneath your feet.”

Imparting those skills to students is an annual ritual with the Department of Geography-Geology’s Geology Field Camp, which is taught in conjunction with Northern Illinois and Western Kentucky universities. This year 40 students from across the United States, including 15 Illinois State students, will take on the arduous six-week camp. Participants will travel from the foothills of the Wyoming Rocky Mountains to Yellowstone National Park and to the Black Hills of South Dakota from May 20 to June 30.

“The six weeks are physically and mentally demanding,” said Malone, who noted students can work 16-hour days that include study in the field, project analysis, report writing and lectures. “It’s tough, but it gets them the expertise they need.”

Employers are looking for geologists with field experience, explained Malone.  “In addition to the technical skills and general geologic knowledge, employers want someone who will be able to handle trekking across the backcountry in Alaska or Argentina, and not fall apart the first time it rains,” he said.

Students stay in field stations and experience the rougher side of Mother Nature. “We go into the field early in the summer, so we’re hiking in the snow in the mountains the first couple of days. We operate under some intense conditions, so it develops a good work ethic quickly.”

The sites are chosen to complement the skills of ISU geology faculty, who have all taken part in the camp over the years. The experience is in high demand, as more and more universities are cutting their field offerings.

“We’ve already turned away 70 students from all over who want to take part this year,” said Malone. “Field camps are a rite of passage for geologists, and ours has a strong reputation.  Most geology programs have given up their field camps for a variety of logistical reasons.  We believe that this is a grave mistake.  I am grateful that we at Illinois State can still make this a priority.”

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