Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Support Field Camp Programs

What is this I hear about field camps no longer being required for undergraduate geology curricula in the U.S.?? According to a report by the American Geological Institute (AGI) schools offering summer field camp programs as part of their undergraduate curriculum are in the decline, primarily because of the costs associated with running and maintaining such programs.

I am a proud graduate of the University of Houston and was recently contacted by Dr. Casey, the Chairman of the geoscience department (now called the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) to help gather and participate in a group of active, supportive individuals to ensure the UH program stays alive and kicking. It seems, rather fortuitously, that UH has recently acquired facilities near Red Lodge, Montana, to host their field programs. While others schools are cutting back, UH intends to grow!

The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (or YBRA) Field Station was previously managed by the University of Pennsylvania and earlier by Princeton University, neither of which are interested in running the camp any longer because of faculty retirements and low student enrollments. Prior to this location, UH hosted their summer geology field camp in Silver Springs, New Mexico.

The change in location for the UH program comes with a host of great opportunities and advantages for the students and the university. The camp facilities are excellent, including 20 cabins with a total of 9o beds, plus a library, classroom, lodge, and kitchen & mess facilities. From the geology standpoint, the site sits on the Beartooth Thrust. Bighorn Basin, Beartooth Mountains, Yellowstone, the Stillwater Igneous Complex, and the Grand Tetons are all within a short drive from the camp. Nature's perfect classroom for aspiring geologists.

UH doesn't plan to stop there, and limit the experiences and growth opportunities to only those majoring in geology. Rather, they are coordinating the department's first Geophysics field camp in August, 2009, and have plans for a mountain meteorology school at the facility in 2010 (the first of its type in the U.S.). The geophysics camp will provide practical experience for the students in seismic acquisition, ground penetrating radar, down-hole logging, and gravity and magnetic measurements.

In addition, UH is coordinating with other universities to join for the summer camp programs, bringing together students from across the United States and beyond from schools like Williams College, Rutgers, Amherst, Princeton, George Mason, Whitman College, University of Rhode Island, Ryder College, Wesleyan, Franklin and Marshall, College of Wooster, Rice University, RPI, Boston University, Appalachian State University, Middlebury, George Washington University, Texas A&M, Temple, Texas Tech, Tulane University, Trinity College, University of Swansee, Hampshire College, University of Delaware, and even Chiba University in Japan.

What a shock to think that out of the 695 geoscience departments listed in the AGI directory, less than 15% offer and require field camp for undergraduate majors. The experiences of being in the field, understanding the challenges with interpretation and data acquisition, and being able to relay the observations to an audience through verbal and written formats are undeniably necessary for our science. While today's technology may provide tools to keep us sitting in our cubicles staring at our computer, there is still no replacement for the experiences in the field.

Support your local field camp program! Protect it from being lost through departmental budgetary cutbacks! If you are an employer of personnel in the geosciences, geophysics, and/or atmospheric sciences, you should demand your employees (or future employees) leave their university studies with field experiences!

If you want to support the UH program, the UHGAA (UH Geoscience Alumni Association) is coordinating a fundraising gala to be held at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) on October 25, 2009. The goal of the event is to secure the funds for a permanent endowment to assist in funding field camps perpetually for UH students and to help with the plans for growth at the camp. Individual tickets for the gala are $250 and entitles you to exclusive access to the minerals room and the entire museum for the evening, along with a presentation by Dr. John F. Dewey, F.R.S. Distinguished Professor of Tectonics, and Dr. Robert Stewart, Cullen Chair in Geophysics regarding the value of field work in geology, geophysics, and planetary sciences. A dinner will follow in the Hall of Paleontology at the HMNS. Each table can seat 10 individuals. Sponsored tables (seating 10) are available at various levels (5k, 10k, 15k, and 50k). Email questions about the event or the endowment to Tram Nguyen (tnguye36@mail.uh.edu).


  1. Nice info and I am not surprised. Many geoscience programs are designed to train high school teachers who will never attempt a session in the field and only touch on some basics of geology. It would be interesting to find out as a percentage, how many people went to field camp that are now teachers verse those working in oil industry related jobs.

  2. Hello! At The College of Wooster we do not require field camp for our geology majors, primarily because we can't staff one ourselves and that our students often can't afford the extra cost. Many of our students do, though, attend field camp between college and graduate school. We also make certain that all of our students have extensive field experience through our Independent Study program. We now have a cool new blog highlighting our field and lab work:


    Just found your blog. I look forward to reading it!



  3. Mark, thanks for sharing the information about Wooster's geo-blog. The logistics associated with running a field camp program are pretty involved, so I can understand the challenges the departments face. UH students face the same challenges with cost and time requirements. UH is known as a commuter school and many students also work and have full lives outside of campus. Taking a 6-week leave of absence to attend field camp, often unpaid, requires a dedicated commitment. The UHGAA has tried to help the students offset the costs by offering full and partial scholarships to as many attendees as possible to help ease that burden and keep students in the program. The field camp requirement, because of time and cost committments are the reason many in the past have chosen to pursue geophysics, earth science, or other non-geology majors. The fundraiser event that is in the works will help ensure these scholarships can continue to support the students who commit to attend. In addition, with UH continuing and expanding their program, it allows other universities, such as Wooster, to have a place to go between the undergrad and graduate programs. I'm glad to hear that Wooster still values the experiences in the field. I hope that relationships between schools like UH and Wooster and the field programs they support will continue to keep top-notch field experiences available for future students.

  4. Here's what one enterprising woman did to revive field school programming in Canada:


  5. Graham and Roger, thanks for that link. What a great highlight! My only comment is that it is disappointing the program doesn't support more students at one time (limited to 6), but I like how the program is win-win for the Geological Survey and for the students. Ms. Relf is on my list of geo-heroes. :) Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Many thanks to the person who made this post, this was very informative for me. Please continue this awesome work.

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