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Digging Up (and Living) Dreams: UC Clermont Geology Students Study Dinosaur Fossil Preservation in Wyoming

UC Clermont College geology students are publishing research, discovering dinosaurs and finding promising careers doing work they love.

Date: 6/13/2017 12:00:00 AM
By: Amanda Chalifoux
Phone: (513) 558-8199
Photos By: Scott Liming

UC ingot   Mandy Hunt’s love for geology started — literally — in her own backyard. The associate professor at UC Clermont College grew up on a farm near Loveland, Ohio, and would spend hours unearthing rocks and fossils in the family’s creek.
From left: Professor Amanda Hunt with paleontologist Peter Larson (center) and students Steve Ransom, Scott Liming, Tommy Farron and Hayden Owens at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D.

“I was in love with nature from the get-go,” says Hunt, who earned her doctorate in geology before embarking on a career in petroleum exploration and production for Shell Oil. Driven by a desire to share her passion with the next generation, Hunt eventually joined the faculty of the University of Illinois to launch the school’s petroleum geology program. She then spent several more years as an industry consultant before coming to UC Clermont 23 years ago. “I’ve never been bored a day in my life. Geology is the world’s greatest puzzle.”

It’s that sense of wonder that has been contagious for Hunt’s students — from her geology classroom in Snyder 150 to the vast plains of northeast Wyoming, where five students accompanied Hunt on a three-week experiential field trip in May. The goal of the trip, coordinated with Casper College, was to analyze dinosaur/vertebrate fossil preservation conditions of the uppermost Cretaceous rocks and map and geochemically analyze the K-T Boundary, a stratigraphic rock record around the world that records the meteorite impact associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs. This boundary has traditionally been difficult to define in the Powder River Basin Perimeter in Wyoming, and scientists aren’t entirely sure why; more mapping and information is needed to help find answers.

For student Steve Ransom, the expedition was a childhood dream come true. “I’d wanted to dig up dinosaur bones since I was 5,” says Ransom, a former micro-biologist who is transferring from UC Clermont to the Uptown Campus to finish his bachelor’s degree in geology this fall. He was an assistant in the college’s geology lab for four semesters and plans to work in petroleum exploration after graduation. “I’ve learned field methods firsthand here. Not every geology undergraduate has that opportunity.”

In fact, Hunt encourages students her students to not only study time-tested methods, but to conduct original research. All five trip participants (Jessica Bowling, Tommy Farron, Scott Liming, Hayden Owens and Ransom) presented their research progress and their plans to use a new type of handheld, X-Ray fluorescence analyzer tool to map the K-T Boundary. They presented that work at the Ohio Academy of Science Annual Meeting in April. The tool allows for rock analysis while in the field in mere seconds — a process that previously took months in a lab.

“We want students to know that they can come to UC Clermont and do great things right away,” Hunt says. “They can do their own research and use state-of-the-art equipment, like the XRF analyzer, in the field. They can become published authors, pursue fellowships to continue their education and graduate with practical experience and marketable skills.”

Bowling, who is now a junior at UC’s Uptown Campus majoring in seismology, is a prime example of the successful path Hunt’s students can travel. Unsure of her future when she first came to UC Clermont, she signed up for a physical geology class and fell in love. She is now a national McNair Scholar and plans to study earthquake detection with the goal of keeping people safe. In Wyoming, she discovered a molar belonging to a Titanothere, a giant distant cousin of the modern-day rhinoceros that lived during the Eocene Era. The fossil is now her prized possession.

“Seeing this phenomena with my own eyes was incredible,” Bowling says. She is inspired in her career goals by UC Clermont graduates like Brittany Brand ’03, a volcanologist at Boise State University, and Justin Wilkins ’14, curator and educator at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. 

Hunt says the job opportunities for geology majors are many and include exploration and mapping for strategic and critical minerals, oil and gas, and a wide variety of careers in government agencies and corporations. “Geology is more important now than ever,” says Hunt. “Everything we use is either mined or grown on Earth, and we are in danger of degrading our living environment and our resources. Geologists can help solve these problems. And students can find a worthwhile passion and pursuit through geology.”

To see photos, video and read student blog posts from the geology trip to Wyoming, visit http://clermontexplorer.weebly.com/. To learn more about UC Clermont’s Math, Computers, Geology and Physics Department, visit http://www.ucclermont.edu/academics/academic-departments/mcgp.html or attend an upcoming information session on campus: http://www.ucclermont.edu/admissions/visit.html.