Some Front Range Community College students had a summer of research in earth sciences. What they experienced could be the catalyst for further study, certainly, and perhaps for a career, just as it could be for other students featured in a previous post.
Geo-Launchpad is a collaborative effort between FRCC and UNAVCO, a non-profit, university-governed group in Boulder that conducts geoscience research and education. Geo-Launchpad provides students interested in science and technology a pathway to careers in these areas. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program includes curriculum, seminars, and an eight-week paid internship.
Some students worked with a partner from FRCC or another community college, and some students worked on their own project. All had mentors, seminars, and professional development opportunities throughout their summer. They connected with researchers, and some may have found their future.
Dylan Blanchard and Jodi Schoonover investigated 3D printing procedures and applications in outreach and field support. Dylan, who seeks an Associate of Arts degree with Designation in Geography, was interested in the geospatial applications in geography. Jodi, who is earning an Associate of Science in anticipation of enrolling at the University of Colorado for geophysics, said a visit to a mountain research station let her “see the scientists work in context. I could appreciate their passion and can explore those areas.” Their mentors were Chris Crosby and Marianne Okal.
Elizabeth Etzel and Jessica Ghent worked on a fossil-hunting project. They used a fossil database to reconstruct Upper Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway shorelines and compare them to those predicted by the late paleontologist William Cobban. Elizabeth, who has a Bachelor of Arts in geography from the University of Texas, came to FRCC for a certificate in Geographic Information Systems. Her experience prepares her for graduate school or a job, she said. Jessica, who is studying geology, appreciated the opportunity for professional development and to work in the geosciences. Their mentors were Kevin C. McKinney and Chris Stuckey.
Brandon Lucas brought modern technology to an ancient geological site – the Slumgullion Slide in the San Juan Mountains. The 700-year-old slide, about 4 miles long covering about 4 acres, continues to be active, moving as much as 23 feet per year. Brandon deployed drones to photograph the slide. Using advanced software, points on the external surface of the slide can be created and compared with previous or later photos to map geospatial change. “It’s given me a lot of confidence,” said Brandon, who is studying geography at FRCC. “It was hard work, and persistence was important. It showed me I have what it takes to be a scientist.” Brandon’s mentor was Dave Mencin.
Amye Pedrino assembled a showcase of mineral and element samples critical to national security. The mineral samples were donated by a USGS geologist. Rare earth elements are found in other countries, including China, but are used in everyday items such as computers and batteries and in strategic defensive weapons. Amye graduated from FRCC and is studying physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She learned that “nature, including minerals and elements, are inclusive in our everyday life – the economy, education, and trade relations.” Amye’s mentor was John Rhoades.
Patrick Shabram, geography faculty at the Larimer Campus, is the principal lead on the program. Max Miller, geography faculty at the Westminster Campus, is a second contact. Each Geo-Launchpad student had a faculty mentor at their home campus.
RECCS, or the Research Experience for Community College Students in Critical Zone Science, is administered by the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Environmental Sciences in partnership with the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research’s Critical Zone Observatory Program. Funding is from the National Science Foundation.
Henry Arndt, who is seeking an Associate of Applied Science in Geospatial Studies, found “an entirely new world” as he worked to establish some best practices that could be used in mapping previously unknown mineral deposits so as to reduce waste while permitting profitable exploration and extraction. His mentor was Dr. Kristy Tiampo, director of the CIRES Earth Science and Observation Center.
Kara Garcia, who is studying for an Associate of Science degree with Designation in Biology, investigated the effects of climate change on water resources in the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research and Boulder Creed Critical Zone Observatory sites. “This has opened the world of academia to me,” she said. “As a first-generation student, I learned the entire process, and I have been successful.” Kara plans to pursue a future in field research. Her mentor was Ryan Webb, a postdoctoral fellow with the CU Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research Mountain Hydrology Group.
William Rademacher studied changes in aridity across the Great Plains under a warming climate. His FRCC skill set was helpful: Associate of Science degree and certificates in Horticulture and Natural Resources Geographic Information Systems. Now studying environmental earth science at the University of Northern Colorado, William said, “It was one of the first real research projects I’ve ever done. It was the highest degree of sophisticated research.” His mentors were Candida Dewe and Imtiaz Rangwala, a CIRES research associate.
What about next year?
Community college students, the application deadline for next year’s Geo-Launchpad is Feb. 15, 2018. The deadline for RECCS hasn’t been posted yet, but, if similar to 2017 also will be in February 2018.