Journey to GSA
APSU's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences attends national conference
Clarksville, TN (12/19/2023) — CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Students, faculty and staff from Austin Peay State University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences recently attended the Geological Society of America (GSA) Connects 2023 Meeting in Pittsburgh, and many of them were able to present their research to a national audience.
Ten students attended the annual event, thanks to support from various Austin Peay funding sources and planning from geology professors Dr. Kallina Dunkle and Dr. Erik Haroldson. Six of the students and all five geology faculty members who attended presented at the conference, along with the Earth and Environmental Sciences lab manager Mitchell Clay.
Senior Joey Hatton, who has been working with Drs. Phyllis Camilleri and Jack Deibert, described feeling a mix of emotions leading up to the event, which was her first-ever presentation at a conference - nerves balanced with an eager anticipation of the networking opportunities and exposure to cutting-edge geology research ahead. Her anxiety ramped up while prepping her research poster to present alongside both other students and distinguished professionals.
"In the hall, we're talking to people who are so well-versed in this field," she said. "I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep up in conversation, but after two minutes, it just started to feel natural."
The halls were decked out with posters and presenters from wall to wall, set up 2 feet apart to maximize space and presentation availability. For first-timers, it could be intimidating.
However, with guidance from the professors and veteran students who had presented research in previous years, Hatton and the other first-time student presenters found their footing. In Hatton's case, Deibert provided guidance ahead of the event, coaching her on what questions to expect.
"Mitchell [Clay] was a great resource for students, as a fairly recent student himself," Haroldson said. "Dairian Boddy was the only attending student who had experienced a large conference before, so he was helpful as well."
For the professors, the hallway conversations, asides with colleagues and opportunities to learn new tips and tricks were among the primary highlights, but they also appreciated the ability to see the conference through the eyes of the first-time attendees.
Hatton lit up when describing the passionate atmosphere that defined the event and the opportunity to meet with professors, professionals and potential graduate school opportunities to advance their education and careers.
"My eyes were opened - I didn't even realize some of these paths or specialty areas existed," she said. "This experience was great because it allowed me to talk to people who share that same sort of passion for geology. Just being able to talk with those people was great because it stoked that passion that originally made me want to start geology in the first place."
While students actively networked around posters, Dunkle and Haroldson reconnected with longtime colleagues about ongoing partnerships while planting seeds for future collaboration possibilities. Dunkle also participated in two talks at the event, including a group talk that presented preliminary reports from the 2022 Second National Conference.
"I was able to take a short course on field safety leadership, thinking about planning and executing field excursions," Haroldson said. "In geosciences, there's only so much you can learn in a classroom, so you have to get out into the world and explore it."
En route to Pittsburgh, Frederick, Dunkle, and Mitchell Clay also led an excursion to Trammel Fossil Park in Sharonville, Ohio, to search for fossils originating from the Ordovician Period over 440 million years ago.
Hatton deemed the entire experience "very intellectually satisfying." She committed to making academic conferences a cornerstone of her schedule moving forward, just as the professors pledged to keep exposing students to these invaluable events that often ignite lasting passions for geology.
In that sense, GSA is perfect for the field, displaying just how broad it can be without intimidating attendees.
"This meeting, in particular, is good for giving an overview of different areas in geology," Haroldson said. "There are some meetings that are more specialized into, say, geochemistry or geophysics. GSA is a real nice, well-rounded organization that draws a little from every sub-discipline."