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Checking in With the SSU Viking Geologists

Story by Tian Quinn

Fall 2022 was an eventful semester for SSU’s Geological Science department, with students embarking on weekend research trips, attending conferences, and, in late October, playing lawn games in their Halloween costumes at the Department of Geological Sciences Lawn Party hosted by the Earth Science Association. Recently, the Center for Research and Creative Activities had the chance to sit down with Professors Brad Hubeny and Erkan Toraman for a recap of these events and more, along with a peek at what’s in store this spring. 

In September 2022, geoscience students—who are part of a close-knit community of approximately 65 undergraduate student majors and 35 minors in geology, forensic science, sustainability, and earth science disciplines—participated in lab work activities and occasional weekend trips. One of these weekend trips brought students to a farm in New Hampshire owned by Professor Emeritus Lindley Hanson, where students were able to set up workstations in the open field. That same weekend, students also attended the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference (NEIGC 2022), where students embarked on day-long field trips applying their practical knowledge in the field as well as engaged in professional networking opportunities alongside undergraduate students from public universities across the state.  

Later that month, Professor Hubeny brought geology students on his annual trip to Cape Cod, which was the first time students returned to the area in person since the beginning of the pandemic. While the geoscience department has traditionally relied on the in-person experiences inherent to such trips, many professors were able to find creative ways to adapt to remote learning at the onset of the current pandemic. For Professor Hubeny, this meant compiling video footage of geological sites for students to access virtually. As Hubeny notes, although these virtual methods did not replicate the in-person experience, the footage allowed students to engage with important concepts. This academic year, students who were unable to attend the in-person Cape Cod trip were able to use Hubeny’s complied footage, allowing for a hybrid learning experience that previously did not exist.  

Students also attended the three-week-long summer field course trip to Montana, which has traditionally taken place the summer before a graduating cohort’s senior year. Led this past year by Professor Erkan Toraman and Professor Doug Allen, students engaged in what the Montana trip invariably offers: the opportunity to participate in hands-on fieldwork and produce their own geological maps of the area. Together, students tap into the academic skills they have garnered, collaborate with and support one another, live together, and engage with professors in both personal and professional capacities. (In the past two years, while the trip was on hiatus due to pandemic-related safety restrictions, Professor Sara Mana assisted in creating virtual mapping across Salem State’s campus to ensure students were still receiving sufficient experience.)  

Upon returning from Montana, members of the graduating geosciences cohort continue to develop their Capstone project research, which typically includes fieldwork, data analysis and interpretation. Through Salem State’s support in obtaining external grants, professors have been able to provide students with independent research opportunities throughout New England, upper New York state, Montana, and Iceland, as well as a prospective student research trip to Africa this summer. In March, students in the graduating cohort will submit and present their research at the Northeastern Geological Society of America 2023 Conference in Reston, Virginia. For many students, presenting at the conference is a pinnacle moment, where the culmination of their experiences in Montana and throughout their academic careers allow them to demonstrate self-confidence in their research and themselves.  

As Professors Hubeny and Toraman note, research trips and conferences are part of a broader, ongoing department initiative to provide more opportunities for geoscience students. In 2020, the department introduced the Applied Forensic Geoscience concentration, an undergraduate area of study unique in the US. Since this is the only concentration that does not participate in the annual Montana trip, the Geological Sciences department is developing an internship opportunity for students in this program to encounter more analytical situations and experiences. In addition, the department is currently working with the Geography and Sustainability department to create a 4+1 BS/MS combined degree program for geological science students who want to complete a graduate degree in just one additional year.  

Thank you, Professors Hubeny and Torman, for giving us an inside look at the Geological Sciences department. We look forward to supporting your graduating cohort’s presentations in March! 


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