Meet Our Majors

Meet some of our geology majors.

 

Fiona Pedrick ’20

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA; Anchorage, AK
Major: geology

What was your motivation to major in geology?

I came to Oxy determined to study Diplomacy & World Affairs but found myself enthralled by my introductory geology class. Although I just took the class to fulfil my laboratory science core requirement during my first year, I quickly realized that those were the 55 minutes I looked forward to the most three days a week! I also enjoyed reading the textbook unlike any class I’d had before. My intro professor encouraged me to pursue geology and I declared my major two weeks into the next semester. I remember feeling incredibly proud when I received my new set of keys to the geology building.

Can you describe your working relationships with geology professors?

The geology department—faculty and students included—is incredibly close due to countless hours spent together in class, lab, and field trips to near and far geologic wonders. Most professors keep their office doors open and welcome students. I always try to discuss questions about class assignments but I also like to chat about their current research projects and ask for general life advice. Our department is full of great professors who push students to do their best while supporting and caring for them as people.

Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

My three favorite Oxy geo classes (so far) are “Introduction to Field Methods,” “Earth Materials” and “Petrology.’ These courses taught me fundamental skills such as field mapping, mineral identification, data interpretation and basic scientific writing. Petrology in particular taught me how to interpret evidence and relate it to large theoretical concepts with computer models and knowledge of geological processes.

Have you taken part in any geology-centered research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

I started faculty-directed research with my current academic and senior comps adviser, Professor Margi Rusmore, during the second semester of my sophomore year. After spending Summer 2018 working as a field assistant in the Pioneer Mountains of Idaho with a colleague of Professor Ann Blythe, I was invited back for the next summer with my own corner of the project. I spent my junior fall semester writing a research proposal for Oxy’s Undergraduate Research Center Science Scholar fellowship program in preparation for this second field season. I was selected for the grant and have since spent another summer in the field and in the laboratory. Currently, I am finishing the data collection portion of the project while developing my senior thesis manuscript.

What do you find most compelling about studying geology?

I think of geology as answering large-scale questions using the evidence exposed and the geologic tools available. Often it takes more than one kind of geology—for example structural, geochronology and petrology—to solve these problems and often the answer is a series of further questions. I enjoy the creative thinking geology demands and the constant (and required) quest for further learning. I also thrive in the field and would love to spend all of my days camping in a tent and hiking up mountains rock-hunting.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy? How has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

After Oxy, I intend to attend graduate school and get a Ph.D. in geology. I am thankful for the liberal arts education experience at Oxy because it strengthened my writing, critical thinking and communication skills. I have also been exposed to many enjoyable courses outside my major to fulfill the core program requirements. Two classes that really stood out are the Media Arts and Culture class about video games I took to fulfill my fine arts requirement and the Religious Studies class, “History of the End of the World,” that I took to check the pre-1800’s and regional focus boxes.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in geology?

My two pieces of advice for a student considering a geo major are to talk to your professors and take advantage of all the undergraduate research opportunities available at Oxy. Go to office hours and take the time to get to know your professors because they all have interesting research and often have projects for students. In my four years at Oxy, I have found undergraduate research to be the most challenging and rewarding experience. It has both confirmed my love for geology and inspired me to keep unraveling the earth’s mysteries.


Matt Aleksey ’21

Hometown: New York City
Major: geology with an emphasis in environmental science

What was your motivation to major in geology?

I knew I wanted to major in geology even before I got to Oxy. My interest in geology sprouted from watching documentaries on natural disasters, prehistoric animals and plate tectonics. When I was a little kid I used to spend days imagining and drawing how future Earth would look due to plate movement and the strange animals that would evolve after hundreds of millions of years.

Can you describe your working relationships with geology professors?

The geology department is close-knit and I am happy that I have developed meaningful relationships with my professors. They have been supportive and proactive in helping me find research opportunities and excel in my classes. I especially enjoyed the Intro to Field Methods class taught by Professor Margi Rusmore and the Petrology class taught by Professor Chris Oze.

Have you taken part in any geology-centered research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

I have done research with both Dr. Rusmore and Dr. Ann Blythe. I worked on projects studying faults in the San Gabriel Mountains and uplift along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Currently, I am starting my senior comps project with Dr. Rusmore where I will be studying extension and magmatic flux around the Stikine and Iskut Rivers of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia.

What do you find most compelling about studying geology?

Geology is so enjoyable because it makes Earth and its history into a giant puzzle to solve. I love the experience of crafting stories based on the observations we see in the field and in the lab. Plus, as a deeply field-based science, geologists get to go out on many explorations into nature!

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

I plan to go to graduate school immediately after leaving Oxy. I want to waste no time working towards obtaining a Ph.D. so that I can someday be a professional researcher and professor. At this point I am still discovering my true passions within geology, but I think that I want to pursue research in tectonics and structure.

How has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I think having gone to a liberal arts college and taking many courses outside of my major focus has given me greater critical thinking skills. When I think back to how non-STEM-related classes have aided me, I always turn to an art history class I took. One of the benefits of having taken this class was the practice of comparing different objects and identifying them based on similar and derived characteristics. In geology, the ability to draw conclusions from the understanding of sequential developments was immediately applicable.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in geology?

Geology is such a wide-scoped discipline, so it may take time for you to find the area that you are most interested in, whether it be sedimentology, geophysics or structural geology. It’s also never too early to think about doing research, so be sure to talk to the professors about potential projects you can get involved in!


Jackie Dall ’21

Hometown: La Crescenta, CA
Major: geology; minor: art history

What was your motivation to major in geology?

I decided to take Geology 105 during my first year on a whim because, being from California, I was interested in earthquakes and I felt it was only natural to learn more. I enjoyed the course more than I expected and talked to my professor about enrolling in more geology classes, which ultimately led me to declaring my major. Every field trip, research experience, and new course motivates and inspires me to continue my journey in geology.

Can you describe your working relationships with geology professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

The geology professors, both in class and in a research setting, are continually available to answer questions and provide support. In the department, there isn’t an attitude that answers should be easy; instead, the way in which you are approaching a problem and drawing on knowledge from previous classes is emphasized. They create an environment that encourages questions, challenges you and makes you excited to learn. Earth Materials and Petrology stand out to me as courses that present such overarching problems and then work towards solutions.   

Have you taken part in any geology-centered research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

Through the directed research course offering, I’ve worked with Professor Chris Oze since Spring 2019 focusing on the mineralogy of chromium-silicates. This project has allowed me to apply what I learned about theoretically in previous classes, such as Earth Materials, and use the labs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to collect data.             

What do you find most compelling about studying geology?

Geology is intertwined with our daily lives, from where our food grows to our art and the hazards we contend with. I consider studying geology to be studying the foundations of the way we live. By studying a microscopic viewpoint of our world, we can better contextualize and explore larger processes.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy? 

After Oxy, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. and would like to go into research and curatorial work in the future. Being able to combine my interests at Oxy contributed to my desire to continue in science that also has a public engagement and communication component.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in geology?

If you are considering a geology major—especially if you have taken Geology 105—I recommend taking another geology class to see if you enjoy the more in-depth content and find a specific branch of geology you are particularly interested in. Talking to current majors about their experiences and their trajectory in the major is also helpful to gain a better understanding of the overall geology experience.


Sam Sachs ’21

Hometown: Tacoma, WA
Major: geology

What was your motivation to major in geology? Was there a specific inspirational moment or experience?

I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and love spending as much time as possible outside. I had lots of questions about why the earth appears the way it does and found that I’ve been able to answer many of those questions in an engaging manner through geology. The field trip I took as a first-year in my Geology 105 course opened my eyes to the possibility that I could simultaneously study and pursue my passion for the outdoors, which was ideal.

Can you describe your working relationships with geology professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

My working relationships with my professors are quite positive. The professors are always interested in helping students with any questions or concerns they have about coursework as well as building connections. Since the geology department is relatively small compared to other majors at Oxy, I often go to my professors for one-on-ones with questions and they are happy to answer them. Because of this, two standout classes I’ve taken have been my Field Methods courses because I got to work together with my professors in the field and hear some of their incredible stories.

Have you taken part in any geology-centered research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

Over the last year and a half, I’ve done research in Professor Darren Larsen’s Paleoclimate and Sedimentology Laboratory on campus. This has been one of my favorite experiences throughout my studies and has allowed me to travel to Iceland for research purposes. The work I do in Dr. Larsen’s Lab involves processing sediment cores collected from a number of lakes in Iceland. Working in the lab has also given me valuable insight as to what the job of being a geologist entails.

What do you find most compelling about studying geology?

What I find most compelling is that geology makes the world seem like a giant puzzle. The world is like a finished puzzle and geologists get to deconstruct it and then piece it back together as it appears today. I find it rewarding when I can observe a landform outside of class and process exactly how it formed.

Do you have any advice for students considering a major in geology?

My advice would be to keep an open mind toward the natural world and question it a lot. The more questions you explore, the more interesting the world becomes and you’ll gain a greater overall understanding of it. Most importantly, enjoy the experience through every moment because not many students get to say that their classroom is outside.

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