Professor Rick Giardino (center) speaks to G-Camp participants during their three-week field trip of the Southwest U.S.
I grew up in an area of Colorado that, during the Cretaceous period, was covered by a sea. The resulting landscape was incredible, and I frequently collected rocks and fossils as a child—boxes and boxes of them that my mother faithfully used in her flowerbeds. It was more than a hobby or a fleeting fascination; it was the start of a lifelong study of our world.
Today, I am what you call a geomorphologist. I study the surficial features of Earth, such as rivers, landslides, and rock and ice glaciers. What I didn’t realize as a child is that geology is so much more than rocks and fossils. It is examining them and then asking
why, how, when? Now, I seek to understand climate change, the evolution of landscapes, and hazards like landslides, avalanches and floods. I’ve traveled to all 50 states and six continents in these pursuits, and you can bet I still want to go to Antarctica. (And Mars!)
I began spreading my love for geology to a much broader audience in 2008 through an outreach program I developed in the College of Geosciences called G-Camp. Each summer, the program takes approximately 35 fifth through 12th grade teachers on a three-week field trip through the Southwest to study geological features and develop grade school curricula.
We tour Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, visiting locations near sea level to those higher than 12,000 feet. Through astounding vistas and sights such as Enchanted Rock, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns and the Garden of the Gods, we map Earth’s geological history. G-Camp puts teachers on the slopes of volcanoes, on the footwalls of faults, in the depths of glacial valleys, on the toes of landslides, and in pristine streams and ancient marine deposits.
When all is said and done, they too grasp that geology is much more than rocks and fossils. It is the foundation of 21st-century society.
A few years ago, Texas added a fourth science to its core curriculum of biology, chemistry and physics: Earth and environmental science. The problem? Many teachers don’t have the necessary knowledge to adequately teach the subject, which results in incoming Aggie freshmen with little to no knowledge of geology. As a solution, we initiated G-Camp to better equip teachers who, in turn, pass their newfound knowledge to thousands of students each year.
Since the average geologist today is close to retirement—around 55 or 60 years old—workforce development is another serious concern. By ensuring that teachers are excited and knowledgeable about geology, we can do our part in attracting more young people to the field.
My motto for the camp is:
“Show them a lot, keep them busy and you’ll never have a complaint.” So far, our participants have proved me right. Teachers spend 12-hour days in an exhausting but exhilarating whirlwind of learning. They keep a daily field book of sketches, measurements and general observations, and develop lesson plans each night. Post-trip, they present their knowledge and experiences to other teachers within their districts and at state and national meetings.