New Field Geology Course Takes TNCC Students to Montana


Published: August 4, 2009

Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) Geology students didn’t just read about geological concepts during the summer session. They explored the expansive terrain of Montana to learn during a new field geology course.

TNCC Geology Instructor and Department Head Peter Berquist joined Assistant Professor Callan Bentley from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in Annandale to facilitate the July 5-18 field class. “Montana is a great place to go just because of the diversity in geology,” Berquist said.

The four-credit course was open to all Virginia Community College System (VCCS) students who have taken at least one Geology class. Two TNCC students enrolled in the course and paid tuition plus $1,200 to cover the cost of travel and lodging. The TNCC Educational Foundation provided a $2,484 grant for the course.

The curriculum covered basic field research skills and the application of data to create geological maps and more. Students were evaluated on several skills, including their ability to keep detailed field notebooks and identify certain rocks. The final grade will be based on a pre-trip presentation, field performance and the final project, a multi-media presentation of data, photos and video about a region of the student’s choice. “It will be web-based so others can see it,” Berquist said.

The students and instructors started their two-week excursion with several days at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. They explored the surrounding regions, visited the Museum of the Rockies and Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park and studied glacial geomorphology, volcanic formations and more.

After leaving Bozeman, the students lodged at various campsites throughout the state and explored Yellowstone National Park, Sun River Canyon, Glacier National Park and more. “We logged over 2,200 miles on the rental van,” Berquist said.

Berquist says field work is a critical part of geology for students because it builds critical thinking skills and helps students apply knowledge from the textbook as they explore the field. For Berquist, traditional field trips don’t compare to field experience. “Even in a museum you can’t touch it, so it’s not much different than the book,” Berquist said.

During a geological dig in Montana, the group found several dinosaur eggs. To dig and actually find something was one of the best parts of the trip for Berquist and the students. “It just highlights the importance of these types of classes,” Berquist said.

The trip was both intellectually and physically demanding for the students. The varying weather conditions forced students to dress in layers. After experiencing several warm days, the students were caught in a snowstorm. “That was so cool,” said TNCC student Kenneth Holmes. “It was only because I was dressed properly though.”

Holmes was especially impressed by Glacier National Park. He will use the information gathered at the site to complete his final project.

Holmes will complete the requirements for an Associate of Science degree in December and plans to continue his education at William & Mary or James Madison University. He recommends field study for all students. “Take the class. It’s so much fun,” Holmes said.

Berquist says there was an overwhelming request from students to offer this course again and a continuation of the field geology course next year. Berquist and Bentley hope to offer both courses for those students and others.

The hands-on approach really helped the students grasp all of the material. “One of the real cool parts about that was just listening to the students talk to each other and make interpretations of their own about things we were passing and that was really affirming to just listen to that. They got it. It sunk in. It wasn’t just a summer camp or a tourism trip. They got it. That was particularly rewarding,” Berquist said.

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