Student Research: Learning, Growing, Sharing

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[Emily Gajda posing with her research poster at the Northeast Regional Meeting of the Geological Society of America in March 2015]

On Halloween six of the seven full-time faculty members and eleven students from the Geological Sciences Department at CCSU will travel to Baltimore, Maryland to attend the National Meeting of the Geological Society of America. While we are proud that all of the faculty members will be presenting original research at the conference, we are even more thrilled that seven of the students will be as well. If you visited the department right now you would sense the excitement – and the panic – as the oral presentations are polished and poster presentations are printed out. It’s a high adrenaline and high caffeine time for all involved, especially because there are still classes to be taught and attended and other personal and academic responsibilities to be met at the same time.

But despite the sacrificed sleep and inevitable battles with technology, preparing to take students to a professional conference is one of the most satisfying parts of a professor’s job. This is because some of the most authentic and life-changing learning does not take place in the classroom, but in the laboratory or library. It is here that students learn to become scientists or education researchers.  This is where they become the expert, and enjoy the thrill of discovery, as well as deal with the pain of procrastination and equipment that does not always cooperate.

But the learning does not end with the specific problem investigated. Many of these students work in teams, or at the very least share lab space or equipment. Learning how to become part of a scientific team simply cannot be taught in the classroom. You have to live the experience (with its inevitable frustrations). Finally, you need to communicate what you have learned to professionals in the field. The GSA meetings are not undergraduate research conferences. In fact, undergraduate research represents a fraction of the 1000s of presentations. It can be nerve-racking to have an international expert in the field ask you questions about your research. Sometimes they are polite; other times, well, you get the idea. Learning to deal with these high-pressure situations, to be confident in your own abilities and to take constructive criticism gracefully, is a valuable life lesson, regardless of your future plans.

A number of our former students have made powerful, positive impressions on professionals and graduate school faculty through their presentations at GSA meetings, which translated into job opportunities and graduate school admissions. So while we all try to catch our breath this week during this frantic end to what in some cases has been a year-long journey of discovery, we know that come Sunday our students are going to shine!

-Kristine Larsen

Meet the Rock Stars, Part 4: Mr. Troy Schinkel

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Name: Troy Schinkel

Title: Adjunct faculty

Year Started at CCSU: 2011

Courses Taught: Dynamic Earth laboratory, Severe and Hazardous Weather, and Climate Change

Current research projects: Lately I’ve been working with Dr. Maureen Long from Yale University installing seismometers in northern Connecticut. The purpose of the 3 year long project is to understand the structure of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle beneath Connecticut.  The seismometers will be able to detect earthquakes from all over the world and how these waves change as they pass through the interior of the earth will help to better understand the geology below Connecticut.

Favorite book:  Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Albom. It is important for me to read every once in awhile, especially when I’m working too much.  The book reminds me to slow down and focus on the important things in life.

Favorite film: Without a doubt – Goodfellas. A sharp contrast from my book selection. “…but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh…

Favorite scientific term: Cummingtonite. What, it’s a mineral!

Something my students don’t know about me: Not that long ago I was a student at CCSU. I finished my master’s degree in 2012.  For anyone wondering about a master’s degree in Geology at CCSU, sorry, I was the last one!

Students Become Teachers in the Geological Sciences Department

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[Ed. note: Samantha Corallo is currently a senior in the Geological Sciences Department]

Entering my last semester at Central Connecticut State University as an Earth Science Education major, I am currently student teaching ninth grade Integrated Earth and Physical Science classes. Student teaching is a time for personal growth and development to prepare me for a future career, but even before my student teaching experience I was given much preparation from the Geology, Astronomy, and Science Education professors at CCSU.

For the first four years at CCSU, I was an Earth Science major and undecided as to what I wanted to do after I graduated. I decided to take as many geology and astronomy courses as possible, and as a result had the opportunity to meet the amazing professors within the department. With each class I took, the professors displayed a dedication to the subject area as well as educating and providing opportunities for the students taking the courses. The opportunities included geology trips and amazing research projects, and each professor emphasized the importance of expanding our knowledge outside the classroom. When I switched to being an Earth Science Education major, the courses offered at CCSU more than prepared me for the content I would be teaching now. Dr. Jeffrey Thomas, a professor that teaches the science education courses for secondary education, has taught me how to apply the knowledge I have learned from the amazing geology and astronomy professors to the classroom.

When I switched from an Earth Science major to an Earth Science Education major, opportunities were still available to me.  Dr. Kristine Larsen gave me and three other students in the department the resources to carry out a research project that focused on education in the geosciences. Dr. Larsen is just one example of how the professors in the department go above and beyond for their students. The students in the department have so many professors with different interests in geology and astronomy, and depending on what the students’ interests are, opportunities are always available to them. We are very fortunate.

The professors care about their students, and it shows with their dedication to our learning. This has set a good example to me being a student teacher. I strive to let my students know that I care about them and their education the same way my professors have done for me. I want to thank all of the professors within the department for preparing me for student teaching. They truly care about the students in the science education program by teaching us the content knowledge, how to teach this knowledge, and how to expand this knowledge. They could not have prepared me more for student teaching.

— Samantha Corallo

Meet the Rock Stars, part 3: Dr. Michael Wizevich

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Name:   Dr. Michael Wizevich

Title: Associate Professor

Year Started at CCSU: 2006

Courses Taught: FYE 101 First Year Experience, GSCI 100 Search in Earth Science – Geology of National Parks, GSCI 100 Search in Science – Energy Principles and Problems, GSCI 121 Dynamic Earth, GSCI 121 Dynamic Earth Lab, GSCI 131 Environmental Geoscience, GSCI 141 Earth and Life History, GSCI 145 Earth and Life History Lab, GSCI 223 Stratigraphy and Sedimentology, GSCI 290 Field Methods in Geology, GSCI 424 Geomorphology, GSCI 425 Glacial and Quaternary Geology, GSCI 460 Senior Project, 490 Topics in Earth Science – Energy Science

Current research projects: Uranium-Lead Dating of Detrital Zircons of the Hartford Basin, Uranium-Lead Dating of Detrital Zircons of the Vieux Emosson Formation, southwest Switzerland, Depositional Environment of the of the Vieux Emosson Formation, southwest Switzerland, Internal Architecture of Exhumed Paleochannels in the Cedar Mountain Formation, central Utah (2016)

Favorite book: Very difficult to pick. I like to read. There are many favorites, but I’ll pick two that I read during my formative years (I wonder if they are still relevant to today’s college students). Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Fariña. Multiple reasons: Great title, spirited subversive protagonist, and a nearly believable out-of-the-ordinary storyline that was based partly on Fariña’s college experiences at my alma mater. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig was the perfect thought-provoking book to read while contemplating a new career path in geology

Favorite film: Star Wars . Having grown up in a generation of astronaut wannabes, I appreciate how it took (Star Trek (TV) and 2001: A Space Odyssey) space sci-fi to another level

Favorite scientific term: Pingo. Saying it makes you smile and it is a good name for a pet (….P-I-N-G-O And Pingo was his name-o).

Something my student’s don’t know about me: I once drove from Connecticut to the Grand Canyon by myself. I was quite impressed, so I’ve gone back there seven more times, but each time I’ve carpooled.

A Musical Event That is Out of This World!

From Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite through David Bowie’s “Major Tom” and John Williams “Theme from Star Wars”, music and space have enjoyed a long history together.

Now you can hear all of these in one musical celebration of space with the New Britain Symphony Orchestra’s program entitled “About Space” on November 8 at 3:00 pm in Welte Hall on the CCSU campus.
As well as all your favorites, the orchestra will perform the remarkable “Icarus at the Edge of Time” by Phillip Glass, the first time this piece has ever been performed in Connecticut.

Students and children are free. Adults are $20.

…and if you want to couple this with a planetarium visit with your friends, enter the free drawing for an exclusive show for you and 30 friends. Entry forms available at the Copernican Planetarium. Our next free public show is this Saturday, October 17, at 8 PM. The title is “The Search for Intelligence.”

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Meet the Rock Stars, Part 2: Dr. Alexa Tzanova

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Name: Dr. Alexa Tzanova

Title: Adjunct faculty

Year Started at CCSU: 2015

Courses Taught: Dynamic Earth laboratory

Current research projects: I study past warm climates that can help us better understand and picture what our future world may look like. My current project focuses on reconstructing global sea surface temperatures around 8 Million years ago when many of our modern terrestrial ecosystems expanded or emerged for the first time. It is a multi-institution collaboration that also includes Dr. Tim Herbert and graduate student Chris Kelly at Brown University, RI, Dr. Kira Lawrence at Lafayette College, PA and Dr. Laura Peterson at Luther College, IA.

Favorite book:  Anything by Rex Stout.

Favorite film: Amélie – it reminds me to never place boundaries on imagination

Favorite scientific term:  coccolithophore – It may sound like a fancy chocolate dessert or a seasonal drink special, but it’s actually the term for miniature algae that live in the ocean. These tiny organisms help geologists reconstruct past marine environments and also date geological events.

Something my student’s don’t know about me: Some of my field work involves spending as much as 2 months at a time sailing on an oil-rig that’s been refitted as a science drilling ship (JOIDES Resolution); however, I happen to have no sea-legs whatsoever. I love sailing, but I get seasick every time.

Celebrating Earth Science Week at CCSU!

Saturday, October 17 marks the end of national Earth Science Week, and the faculty and students of the CCSU Geological Sciences Department are celebrating with a day of fun, free activities for the whole family!

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From 11 AM until 3 PM we will have a variety of hands-on activities. Walk a scale model of the solar system. Touch real rocks from space and make your own craters. Observe sunspots (weather permitting) and make your own model of the sun. Get to know the stars with your own star finder. Learn how to test water quality. Explore fossils and Connecticut rocks. For the really bold, you can even touch fossilized dinosaur poop [don’t worry, it’s just a rock]. From 12:30 PM until 2 PM we will have special planetarium demos every half hour. At 3 PM Dr. Jennifer Piatek will give a general talk on why 2015 is the Year of the Dwarf Planet. The day caps off with a public planetarium show at 8 PM and observing directly afterwards (weather permitting) of the night sky with a variety of telescopes.

All events are FREE and take place in Copernicus Hall, the CCSU Science and Engineering Building. For more information, call 860-832-2938 or email Larsen@ccsu.edu. We look forward to seeing you!

A Student Reaches for the Stars Through a NASA Summer Internship

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[Ed. note: Jessica Johnson is a senior Earth Science – Geology specialization major with minors in Mathematics and Astronomy. She is also the President of the Geology and Planetary Science Club. Rock on, Jess!]

This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to work on site at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston for ten short weeks. I, along with 400 other applicants, applied for an internship through the Lunar & Planetary Institute (LPI) and twelve of us were chosen to work on a project with research scientists at the LPI and on site at JSC. Aside from the hard work that was put into the research project, the twelve of us were fortunate enough to be able go on “behind the scenes” tours that most do not get to see. The first tour we went on was inside of the Lunar Lab to see various samples from the Apollo missions. We went on a tour from the Star Dust Lab that houses many fine particles of cometary tail dust and general interstellar dust particles. Part of the way into the program we went into the Meteorite Lab that houses several thousands collected samples from the Antarctic return missions. Finally, the last tour we went on was going inside the HERA module that tests psychological effects of people in confined quarters for weeks at a time; this aids in the quest to send people into space for long periods of time.

My research project involved characterizing the mineralogy and petrography of foreign bits called clasts within three Ordinary Chondrite meteorite samples. The big picture for this project was that each meteorite contained a foreign clast that was of a different composition. By the end of the summer I had preliminary mineralogical and petrographic analysis done for each one. The clasts I studied proved to be very interesting in the sense that we couldn’t directly identify what they were a piece of or where they may have originally originated from. They showed that we had much to learn about our solar system.

This experience as a whole was absolutely incredible. I have made wonderful contacts through this experience and this internship as a whole would not have been made possible if it were not for the professors in this department. I thank Dr. Piatek for sending me the information on the application process; I didn’t even know it existed. I was completely prepared for this internship and I thank the professors in our awesome department for always encouraging, engaging, and pushing students to always do their best and explore new opportunities. Shout out to all of them!

The CCSU Geological Sciences Department rocks!

— Jessica Johnson

Masters Degree in STEM Helps Teachers Blossom

[Ed. note: The Geological Sciences Department at CCSU has two science education specialists, Dr. Marsha Bednarski and Dr. Jeffrey Thomas. They are both central to the program described below]

You only need to watch the evening news or leisurely peruse the internet to understand how important a basic understanding of Science, Technology/Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is in today’s world. Our K-12 teachers play a vital role in educating the next generation in these important areas. But who helps the teachers reach their potential in terms of not only an understanding of the issues themselves, but the practical skills needed to effectively  teach them to others? We do!

The MS STEM Program at CCSU (developed and administered in collaboration with colleagues in the Technology & Engineering Education department) developed to bring together Science, Technology/Engineering, and Mathematics certified teachers from all grade levels to explore how to integrate the STEM disciplines in curriculum, instruction, and assessment for use in their classrooms. Begun in the fall of 2014, this innovative new program enables teachers to build on skills and knowledge they already have and create an exciting trans-disciplinary learning environment for their students.

This program  provides current teachers with the skills necessary to move away from the traditional way of teaching individual STEM subjects towards a more comprehensive way of addressing the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines in order to prepare students for 21st century college skills and career readiness. Our courses are aligned with National and CT state content standards and the Common Core Standards in Language Arts and Mathematics. Note that this is a program for those already certified to teach in Connecticut, so it does not by itself lead to CT state teacher certification or cross-endorsement.

If you or someone you know would benefit from this exciting new program, please contact me via phone (860-832-2943) or email (bednarskim@ccsu.edu). More information is also available on our website (http://www.ccsu.edu/stem/). I look forward to speaking with you.

-Marsha Bednarski

Meet the Rock Stars: Dr. Mark Evans

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Dr. Evans trying to explain something to students on a field trip to Cape Ann, MA.

Note: This is the first in a series of posts introducing our amazing faculty and staff.

Name: Mark A. Evans

Title: Professor and Chair

Year Started at CCSU: 2004

Courses Taught: Dynamic Earth, Dynamic Earth Lab, Earth and Life History, Mineralogy, Field Methods, Petrology. (in the past I’ve also taught Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Hydrogeology, and yes, even Stratigraphy and Sedimentology once)

Current research projects: I am working in three areas:

First, I am studying the fluid evolution and structural history of the Central Appalachians in Pennsylvania including the Marcellus shale. The goal is to understand how fluids (water, hydrocarbon, and ore fluid) moved through the rocks during the mountain building events millions of years ago. I am also developing a three dimensional structural model of the region.

Second, I am studying the fluid evolution in the Wyoming Salient in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. Again, the goal is to understand how fluids (water, hydrocarbon, and ore fluid) moved through the rocks during the mountain building events millions of years ago. In this project, I am working with other geoscientists from the University of Rochester and Weber State University.

Finally, another project that I am working on is studying how fluids migrated along faults in the Hartford Basin in central Connecticut. These fluids locally created ore deposits of copper, lead, and barium.

Favorite book: Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by the late Oliver Sacks. This autobiographical book describes how Oliver Sacks loved science as a boy, and played with his chemistry set, collected minerals and other natural curiosities. After reading this book, I felt that I had a kindred spirit as that is how I learned to love science, by exploring the world around me (and making the house stink with my chemistry set).

Favorite film: I don’t see many films, but one that I really liked recently was The Imitation Game. I enjoyed the story of how Alan Turing broke the Enigma code and contributed to the allied win of World War II. I also enjoy watching actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Favorite scientific term: Orogeny – it just sounds like fun

Something your student’s don’t know about you: I was a stay-at-home dad (Mr. Mom) for three years when my first daughter was born.