Growth Opportunities The Department of Earth and Environmental Geoscience provides students with the chance to expand their learning beyond the classroom by attending top national conferences.
Washington and Lee University prides itself on offering its students unparalleled access to the best learning resources available. A terrific example of this can be found in the Department of Earth and Environmental Geoscience (EEG), where students are offered the opportunity to attend some of the nation’s top conferences to present their research and increase their exposure to the sciences.
The department annually sponsors trips to such events for both its faculty and students, providing a unique experience for all involved.
“We have found that these experiences can have a profound impact on the students when they can see science in action,” said Lisa Greer, professor of earth and environmental geoscience and head of the department. “This also exposes them to the wide world of science beyond W&L. We ask them to write a reflection after the conferences are over, and we have found that attending these meetings has inspired these students to embrace what they are doing and helps to guide them in future directions.”
W&L is sponsoring two such trips this fall. The first occurred Oct. 15-18 in Pittsburgh, where seven faculty members and 12 students attended the 2023 Geological Society of America Conference (GSA Connects 2023). Another group will travel to San Francisco for the American Geophysical Union Conference (AGU23) that runs from Dec. 11-15.
“These are the two biggest earth science meetings in the country every year, and attending can be pretty formative for our students,” said Greer. “These events provide opportunities to network and meet with potential graduate advisors and employers.”
Students attending the GSA Connects Conference had the opportunity to present their research conducted with W&L faculty members. All told, the W&L contingent offered 16 technical programs at the event, with students participating in six of them. Among the students who presented their research was Alicia Nguyen, a senior earth and environmental geoscience major and environmental studies minor from Hanoi, Vietnam. Nguyen presented alongside assistant professor Margaret Hinkle, fellow student James Edwards ’25 and Sarah Teagle, a 2023 graduate of the W&L EEG program and a current master’s research student at North Carolina State University. Together, Nguyen, Hinkle, Edwards and Teagle presented their research on “Improving a Novel ‘Mycozeo’ Passive Manganese Bioremediation System: Comparative Efficacy of Coal Mine Drainage Remediation by Mined, Washed, and Synthetics Zeolites.”
For Nguyen, the experience of presenting this research confirmed to her that she has found her calling.
“I never thought I would be able to do science, let alone do research and present my findings alongside my professor and labmates at a big national conference like that,” said Nguyen. “It was like a dream come true. I have found my true place at W&L and found my true passion thanks to an incredible opportunity like the GSA conference.”
While presenting was such a pivotal role in their experience, the conference offered many other opportunities for students to immerse themselves in science. GSA Connects offers numerous field trips for experiential learning, as well as the ability to rub elbows and gain advice from giants in the field. There’s also the ability to network with W&L EEG alumni. This experience left an impression on Kylie Therrien, a junior earth and environmental geoscience major and art history minor from Richmond, Virginia.
“I got to interact with students, professors and representatives from multiple graduate schools, as well as people from industry jobs, and this has helped me gain a better understanding for the options I may have post-graduation,” Therrien said. “The most meaningful connection I made was with an alumna who had participated in Dr. Greer’s research in 2018 and is now studying at the University of Tennessee. She’s been incredibly helpful in answering my inquiries about grad school, and I love having someone with a similar undergraduate background who’s succeeding in the geoscience world.”
Both Nguyen and Therrien said the GSA Connects experience opened their eyes to how vast the opportunities are within the geoscience discipline. “It’s not just the different avenues of study one could partake in but also the area of study, which can be the entire universe or a small island in the middle of the ocean,” said Therrien.
Nguyen said the conference helped her discover her passion for hydrology and water remediation and gain clarity about her future professional aspirations.
“I know with more certainty now what I want to focus on for graduate school or long-term career path,” she said. “I want to focus on water containment contaminant flow and transport modeling, following the work or expanding on the work I was able to listen to at GSA. The research is close to home – these issues are not specific to the U.S. and are present around the world, especially in my hometown. I hope to be able to contribute and be part of the solution.”