The Undergraduate Experience in Geology at GWU
The Geological Sciences program is a small but growing program designed specifically to provide undergraduate students with a strong interdisciplinary education in the geosciences. The modest size of the program allows students to form strong bonds with their cohorts and provides nearly unfettered access to professors. Students typically move through the curriculum in cadres of ten or fewer students and usually have ample opportunities to work directly with faculty through independent study projects, internships, or other research-related experiences. Qualified majors may have the opportunity to work as instructors teaching laboratory sections of the introductory geology courses in their senior year. Such experience is a good way to determine whether teaching of any kind is a possible career path, is a noteworthy addition to resumes, and is often considered favorably by admission committees at graduate departments of other universities.
The curriculum of both the BA and BS degree programs is designed to provide majors with considerable opportunities to pursue advanced coursework, enroll in internships, and undertake independent research projects during their senior year at GWU. Students who work hard and take advantage of the various opportunities offered by the program generally have marked success in seeking employment or admission to graduate studies following graduation. To read first hand from alumni about the undergraduate experience in geology at GWU, please see the comments from some of our graduates on this page.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2007 (BS)
Current Position: Program Officer with the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy at the National Academy of Sciences
My GWU Experience: I joined GW's geology program after completing a master's degree in policy studies at Oxford University. In graduate school, I became close to my fellow students but, as a returning undergraduate in the GW geology program, I became part of a family. Long hours in the lab, field studies in the central Appalachians, late nights turning into morning while preparing group projects, frisbee on the quad at 2AM, food runs at three -- we did it all -- bonded by our common experience and by our love of geology. It was not easy -- I really mean that -- but never before have I had so much fun working so hard. I remain grateful to GW's dedicated faculty for creating a challenging program that sends its graduates into the world so well prepared.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 1991 (BS), 1997 (MS)
Current Position: Environmental Specialist in the Military Munitions Response Program, Environmental and Natural Resource Division, U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
My GWU Experience: The undergraduate and graduate experience that I was privileged to have at GW was one that I feel I could not have had anywhere else. As someone with an interest in the natural sciences but undecided on a major, I found that GW offered me the advantages of a flexible academic program and numerous opportunities for internships and other research and work/study options at the Smithsonian, U.S. Geological Survey, and other government and environmental advocacy organizations in the area. In the GW Geology Department, I experienced a field-focused program, and will never forget the many field trips that reinforced and enhanced classroom concepts. After all, freshwater stromatolites, zircon clocks, upside-down mudcracks, and vanishing rivers have to be seen to be believed, and are best contemplated over a picnic lunch in the Blue Ridge Mountains! As an undergraduate, I never felt out of place as a "part-timer" and always had the full support of the department in defining and setting my goals. After graduation and working as a staff geologist for several years, I returned to GW as a graduate student. At that juncture, I was able to put together a program that built on my experiences in the workplace, and allowed me to study new aspects of groundwater chemistry and contaminant transport. The experience of living and studying with so many people of diverse interests at GWU was one that enriched my academic experience in many ways, and which has proven very helpful in working with engineers, geologists, and biologists in assessing and remediating contaminated sites and safeguarding public lands. Throughout my career in private industry and in government, the friendships and contacts made through GW have remained constant and an important part of my life.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2006 (BS)
Current Position: I currently a graduate student in the Ph.D. program in geology at Baylor University, having recently completed a MS degree on geology at Southern Methodist University. I am currently working on understanding modern and ancient climate systems. One way to reconstruct ancient climate is through the preservation of soil in the rock record. These preserved soils (or paleosols) have both qualitative and quantitative climate signals that I interpret through a combination of field work, petrography, and stable isotope geochemistry. Currently, I am working on understanding how modern climate change manifests itself in modern soils from central Texas. I am also working on reconstructing the climate during the time of some of the earliest primates in Kenya in the early Miocene. I am so passionate about my research because I think there are few matters more pressing than understanding how climate can change and how it has changed in Earth's history. In particular, I am delighted to have the opportunity to actively do research aimed at understanding possible impacts of the current warming of the Earth and changes in climate that the Earth has gone through in the past.
My GWU Experience: I was fortunate to study in a small department where undergraduate students came first. I learned from teachers who loved teaching and who always made time for their students. The small classes and time spent outdoors in the field definitely helped prepare me for the field work I do now as part of my graduate research. For me, the two main reasons I choose Geology as a major was that I got to travel as part of classes and research and, whether one focuses on finding energy or understanding global warming, there are lots of jobs for well-trained geologists. During the past five years, I have been very fortunate to work in places such as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, southern France, Portugal, Ethiopia, western United States, and now Kenya. I have also interned at an oil and gas company and, while still at GWU, worked on a project sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2001 (BS)
Current Position: I work as a Geologist in the Remediation Services group of a national environmental consulting firm. My company helps clients to characterize and delineate the extent of contamination in groundwater, surface water, and soil caused by both recent and historical industrial activities. This often involves installing groundwater wells that intersect shallow and deep groundwater aquifers; collecting groundwater, surface water, and soil samples; and submitting samples to a laboratory for chemical analysis. Once the analytical data have been received from the lab and contaminants of concern have been identified, I work with local, state, and federal agencies to develop the best plan for remediating the site without creating further environmental damage. Following remediation, I oversee the restoration and monitoring of the site.
My GWU Experience: I absolutely loved the Geology program at GWU. I received a well-rounded, personalized education. GWU offers an urban campus that is also close to the Appalachian Mountains and some spectacular geology. I got to know my professors and all the other students in my classes, especially during labs and trips out in the field. Bonds were definitely formed over rock outcrops and lunch breaks during the many field excursions. My advisor also gave me a lot of support and guidance while I worked on my senior thesis; it was a tremendously rewarding learning experience for me. I look back on my time spent at GWU and in the Geology Department as some of the most fun and intellectually stimulating years of my life.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2008 (BS)
Current Position: I am currently a graduate student in the Ph.D. program in earth and planetary science at Washington University in St. Louis. My studies are focused on seismology. I chose to enter this field for a few reasons, one of which being that there are still so many unanswered questions relating to Earth systems and the onset of earthquakes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 75 million people in the United States alone are at risk of being affected by a significant earthquake. It is projected that, in the future, damage from such earthquakes will cost approximately 5.6 billion dollars each year. These statistics are overwhelming and do not even take into account more hazardous and densely populated areas of the world. It is imperative that advances be made in understanding the behavior of seismic waves and the tectonic processes that create them in order to improve infrastructure, emergency response practices, and early warning techniques. Becoming involved in the field of seismology will allow me to address some of the unanswered questions about mechanisms that create these life-threatening events, as well as to use that knowledge to mitigate earthquake-related impacts and ultimately help save lives.
My GWU Experience: Throughout my four years at GW, the geology department provided me with hands-on experience and helped develop my research interests. Being part of a relatively small program proved to be an invaluable experience, as the modest size and undergraduate focus of the program allowed me to have one-on-one interactions with many of my professors. I participated in a mapping project in southwestern Virginia that introduced me to geochemical analysis and age-dating techniques, and I undertook a geophysical research project, the results of which I presented at a national conference. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to teach introductory labs which gave me valuable teaching experience and helped me to become more comfortable with basic geological concepts. Overall, my experiences at GW provided me with a strong geology background and have helped me pursue my career goal of becoming a research scientist.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2000 (MS)
Current Position: Manager at ENVIRON International Corp. in Arlington, Virginia.
My GWU Experience: I look back on my time at GWU as a wonderful gateway to my career. It allowed me to develop and focus my skills through coursework and collaboration with faculty, and provided opportunities that led me to where I am today. While obtaining my Masters degree, I participated in paid internships at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a local environmental consulting firm. Further, as part of my thesis research, I worked with engineers from a prominent geotechnical firm and local government agencies. I truly benefited from the affiliations that GWU had with various agencies and organizations. For example, adjunct faculty including the former head of the Hydrogeology Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, mentored me as I approached graduation and answered my questions about where to start my career. The high caliber of GW's faculty and the strategic location of the school are exceptional attributes that provided a platform that launched me into my career in geology and the environmental sciences.
Graduation Year: GWU Class of 2006 (BS)
Current Position: I am an Executive Geoscientist (Junior Sequence Stratigrapher) working with PETRONAS, the official Malaysian National Oil Company. Currently, I am in the Sequence Stratigraphy Group providing technical consultations and solutions for other geologists in the company as they seek to identify the hydrocarbon potential of locations around the world.
My GWU Experience: I started as an average student at GWU and Geology was not my passion during my early days. After two years of living in the States, I began to adapt to the new surroundings and became attracted to Geology as a possible career. A turning point in my academic career occurred when I was selected to be one of the Research Associates for an internship sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey during my senior year and rapidly began to learn the sometimes subtle details of field-based geological studies. Through this opportunity, I was introduced to the process of scientific research and, in working closely with my professor-advisor for many days in the field, gained a tremendous amount of first-hand geological experience while also accruing unforgettable memories as a field geologist. In the same year, I was asked by the Geological Sciences Program to teach some of the introductory laboratory sections. It was my great honor to receive so much trust from the faculty members and to be among the first group of undergraduate teaching assistants. Near the end of my tenure as an undergraduate student, I presented my research findings at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America.
Geological Sciences Program at GWU not only taught me about geology but also other intangible skills that I have since realized are very useful in order to be a professional geologist. Recently, the field experience, scientific inquiry skills, and effective communication techniques that I gained during my days as a Geology student at GWU have opened up the opportunity for me to join the prestigious Special Studies Group at PETRONAS. I am grateful to the Geological Sciences Program at GWU for giving me so many opportunities to learn and explore new avenues during my undergraduate learning. With all the knowledge that I gained from the program, I have a solid foundation for my career as a petroleum geologist.