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December 13, 2019

School of Rock(s)

By Jhanna Vasser '19
Rain or shine, Geology 121 students dress for success wearing run-down sneakers and rain boots, tattered tees, and shorts, making them prepared to do whatever it takes to understand geology.

Using field experience, the classroom and lab activities that students participate in introduce them to the processes of rock formation and the impact this has on land structures, rock history, and how geological events influence and are influenced by environmental factors.

Geology 121 is lab-based and although some activities take place inside, many of the labs are done in the field. “For geologists, the earth is our laboratory,” says Professor of Geology and Sustainable Food Systems Marlene McCauley.

“I thought it was just going to be a class on rocks and where to find them, but it turned out to be more than that. There’s a lot more environmental studies stuff in it. For instance, we talk about groundwater, earthquakes, and volcanoes,” says Morgan Yamashita ’22, an undecided major who is leaning toward Environmental Studies.

“We are fortunate to have the Woods, Lake, and a stream right on campus, and other great sites for field work nearby. In many introductory Geology classes, students don't get to go into the field at all,” Marlene says. “At Guilford, we’re able to look at rocks in the field, study soils and stream processes in the field, and even head to the mountains to really see a lot of geologic principles firsthand.”

[Watch a video about the Geology Department.]

“I didn’t expect us to be in the field as much as we were for the labs,” Morgan says. “It was cool that we went out probably three to four times, to different places on campus and in Greensboro.”

Students explored North Buffalo Creek, the College Farm, College Creek, and Hanging Rock State Park and its surrounding area. They learned about the importance of soil, how to interpret geologic events, how to identify the physical and chemical processes that rocks have undergone, and how to collect and present physical and chemical data in a lab report. 

Excited About Collaborative Learning

“The trip to Hanging Rock was my favorite lab because I like hiking. I also like seeing what we learn in class actually out in the world. For example, sand from the past today is quartzite through the process of metamorphosis, and it was cool to see that and identify it,” says Environmental Studies major Pippin Bucholtz ’23. “Getting off campus and seeing the things I learned about in class makes me more excited about what I’m learning and how it can actually be more useful.”

In one field study, students learned how to observe a stream, collect a representative sediment sample from the stream bed, measure stream velocity and discharge, measure TDS (total dissolved solids), pH, turbidity, and DO (dissolved oxygen) using various meters, and capture critters to identify the stream’s water quality.

“I hope students come away from this class with curiosity about their physical world and a sense of the deep connections between geology and environmental issues,” Marlene says. “I don't think I'll ever get tired of taking students out in the field. That’s when we really learn from each other, immersed in the excitement of exploring our earth.”

Is it your dream to study Geology and learn how land is formed? Schedule your personal visit to Guilford to meet students and professors who share your passion!