Summer field camp offers real-world experience for geology students

Traveling across the nation and surveying national landmarks isn’t your typical college course, but that’s exactly what geology field camp offers.

The summer course allows Kent State geology majors to apply their knowledge and skills in the western United States throughout its five-week period.

According to geology professor David Hacker, who has taught the field camp course for six years, the class is a “capstone course” meaning students must have a certain level of knowledge before going on the trip.

Students spend four weeks in Black Hills, S.D. and one week traveling to other important geological landmarks including Yellowstone National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and the Grand Teton National Park.

Here the students use professional tools and guidelines to gather information about the area and create geological maps.

“They really get a good feel for how to map, as well as describe and study all three rock types in the field,” Hacker said, referring to the sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks found in the area.

Senior Carrie Frisky, who attended field camp this summer, said field camp is an important class in geology.

“It’s almost like a right of passage,” she said.

The group of 10 students and Hacker drove to South Dakota in two vans and stayed in dorms at Black Hills State for the first four weeks. They camped in tents during their weeklong trip to the other destinations. Students worked in groups to gather information about the areas they studied during the day and worked on analyzing the data and mapping the area at night.

“You could learn all day in the classroom, but when you actually go out and experience the actual field part of it, it really changes your perspective and your understanding of the geology,” said Katie Thomas, a second-year graduate student.

Thomas explained that many of the rock formations they study during field camp are classic examples used in textbooks.

First-year graduate student Jeff Harrison said the geologic sites they studied impressed him.

“I didn’t know that we had some of that stuff in the United States,” he said. “The professor explained it as ‘world class geology.’”

Through studying, these well-known geological structures together, the group also learned about each other, senior Ashley Tizzano said.

“You’re out in the field for eights hours, you get sweaty, gross and you feel like ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these people want to hang out with me, I smell so bad,’ but then you do all the same things and you start collaborating and the next thing you know, you’re all best friends,” she said.

Harrison said Hacker’s relationship with the students was involved and informal.

“We even got to the point where we gave the professor nicknames,” he said. “At the beginning it was Dr. Hacker, at the end of it, it was ‘Hack Attack.’”

Hacker said the informal relationship offers an opportunity to teach in a unique way.

“We show mutual respect for each other and we’re in the same dorm,” Hacker said. “We’re camping together so I feel like I’m sharing my knowledge, rather than being their instructor.”

Hacker’s experience includes working in the petroleum industry and environmental geology fields.

“I don’t think I could have been in those fields without field camp,” he said.

Thomas said after attending field camp, she believes she’s more prepared to be a geologist.

“I feel like I have the tools in my toolbox,” she said.

The group also enjoyed spending time outdoors as many of them said they had never been to that part of the country before.

“Everyone has seen pictures, but just seeing it in person, pictures can’t really describe it,” Harrison said.

He said he appreciated the nature they experienced while camping the last week, especially seeing wild coyote, elk and the night sky.

“You could see everything and your brain was confused of what to do because there’s just so many [stars],” Harrison said.

Hacker said many geologists have a deep appreciation of nature.

“In geology in general we study the earth, and the outdoors is our laboratory,” he said.

Hacker said he tries to include the culture and history of the area in his teaching.

“Anytime we’re out in the field actually doing field work, you can’t help but notice culture, nature,” he said.

“It’s all encompassing. The students, I think, really get a lot out of it besides just geology.”

Tizzano said the beauty of the area is part of what makes all of the hard work worth it.

“You huff and puff up to the top of a mountain and then you get a 360 view of all these huge landscapes and then you’re like, ‘Okay, it was worth it,’” she said.

Contact Alyssa DeGeorge at