Photo Courtesy of Jacob Napieralski
Photo Courtesy of Jacob Napieralski

By AMANDA GHANNAM, Guest Writer

Over the summer, from the end of July into the beginning of August, twelve University of Michigan-Dearborn students visited Puerto Rico. Sounds like a familiar enough destination for college students, but this group didn’t go to party on the beach over spring break, or even to volunteer with a humanitarian mission; they went to Puerto Rico to look at rocks.

These students were able to receive upper-level or graduate credit for spending ten full days studying the geology of western Puerto Rico.

Professor Jacob Napieralski, Associate Professor of Geology at UM-Dearborn, co-teaches Geology 377/577: Field Methods, providing students of Earth Science, Environmental Science, and other disciplines with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the reality of geology field work while discovering the culture and climate of another country.

“No lab assignments, no textbooks, it’s doing the real deal,” Napieralski said.

Students went snorkeling through coral reefs and spelunking through caves to get a feel for the type of field work involved in a geology career. On campus or at local field sites, they would only be able to imagine the rock formations, beaches, and mountains; in a lab at school, they would be manipulating imaginary variables, not working in a real-world setting.

“Students develop an understanding of what it’s like to be doing systematic science work in the field,” said Pablo Llerandi-Roman, co-instructor of Geology 377.

Photo Courtesy of Jacob Napieralski

The students, some undergraduates and some graduate, practiced collecting data through observation and measurement, then learned how to translate their acquired data into conclusions about impact of tectonics, sea level change, and human development. They did this by visiting coastal areas, caves, fault sites, and even an eroded magma chamber. Field Methods is not for those who just want a trip to the beach—the students worked outside daily in intense weather conditions, and trekked through the Puerto Rican mountainsides.

“No matter where you’re thrown in Puerto Rico, it can be the hardest situation or the most impossible rock, and you just go through the process and everything’s manageable,” said Lindsey Scupholm, senior at UM-Dearborn and majoring in Environmental Science/Geology. “It gives you a lot of confidence when you’re in front of this total mystery—you take little steps and you get the answer,” she added.

Professors Napieralski and Llerandi-Roman’s Field Methods course runs every summer. They have taken students to Niagara Falls once and Puerto Rico twice as of this year, and are planning their third trip to Iceland soon.

Photo Courtesy of Jacob Napieralski

Professor Napieralski also teaches many other Geology and Environmental Science courses, including Introduction to Physical Geology, Introduction to Environmental Science, Geomorphology, and Glacial Geology.

Students interested in joining the next Field Methods trip must have a basic background in geology, such as having completed an introductory course in geology. To enroll, students should contact Professor Napieralski well ahead of time.

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