Scott Tinker, past president of AAPG, spends a lot of time traveling around the world thinking about the state of geology and the state of geologic field camps.
To him, they’re related.
“Industries,” Tinker says, “are beginning to worry that students don’t understand rocks.”
So to him, the solution seemed simple enough: bring students closer to the rocks by reinvesting and refocusing on the geological field experience.
Moreover, on one of his travels, he wondered: What if you could bring the top geology students from around the world to the United States for the same purpose – to provide an intensive program in the field?
And that was just part of the rationale for the Immersion Field Experience Program.
“It had all the elements of a neat opportunity,” he said.
As important, Tinker believed that these international students would inject a new vitality into U.S. geologic field camps, something he believes has been sorely needed.
As luck would have it, Lee Suttner called around this time and asked Tinker to help Indiana University raise money for its facility in Montana, called Judson Meade, as well as discuss the overall state of geologic field work. (Tinker, too, attended the 2006 symposium on the health of such camps).
“This is one of if not the premier camps in country,” Tinker said of Judson Meade. But like many in America, it had experienced reduced enrollment and funding throughout the past decade.
Tinker believes it is not only important to keep it open, but to have it thrive.
An international component could help.
“I promoted the idea to five or six countries,” Tinker said. “The Nigerians got excited, Lee got excited, AAPG got excited.”
Out of Africa
There were setbacks and funding snafus, but then in August a group of Nigerian students came to the United States and spent a week in Montana.
The raison d’être for these camps, at least domestically, is what it’s always been, Tinker said: to expose geology students to more of those rocks.
But internationally, the reasons are more philosophical, more challenging.
Tinker says students who come here not only gain new experiences – experiences they wouldn’t find, for instance, in downtown Lagos – but to return to their countries as emissaries.
“That’s the thing about Immersion – it gives students the potential to grow,” he said. “It gets petroleum companies in their countries involved. The model is each company in these countries funds students. The companies then feel a sense of return from the students; the students a sense of loyalty.”
“And universities here,” he says of the United States, “love diversity.”
Like Suttner, AAPG Geoscience Director Jim Blankenship and others, Tinker is convinced the camps provide something for students that classroom work cannot.
“What happens in the field – observational, quantitative, interpretation – is scientific, but it’s also artistic,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is about problem solving in 4-D.”
And, it’s tough.
“You have the base camp, learning to live and work together. It can be grueling. There are rattle snakes everywhere.”
Tinker knows what he’s talking about. He studied at Judson Meade in 1981– back when it was two eight-week sessions, with 70-80 students in each session.
“Lee was head of the program,” he recalled fondly. “It was wonderful.”
The Field Immersion program that the Nigerians experienced wasn’t as intense as the program U.S. geology students undergo.
And that’s by design.
“I wouldn’t try to over-engineer it,” Tinker said. “Originally, we’re thinking of keeping kids of common language, culture – that’s the thought,” he says, citing cultural and religious concerns, especially those coming from Muslim countries.
Tinker, like Suttner, is passionate about the need for the field experience – for both domestic and international students.
“The field camp is a truly fundamental experience, a vital part of what we as geologists do,” he said. “It’s not just emotionally and intellectually challenging, but physically draining as well.
“That prepares you for life.”