by Chuck Bailey, Professor of Geology College of William & Mary and GSA Councilor
Last week much of the William & Mary Geology department hit the road again en route to the Geological Society of America’s Southeastern Section meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s an annual spring ritual for W&M Geology students as this meeting is well-timed and can be the perfect venue in which to present research to an array of earth scientists.
It took all of the department’s rolling stock to accommodate our crew, and after 7 hours of traveling across the Atlantic Coastal Plain we arrived in South Carolina’s low-country colonial capital for the meeting. Eleven students and three faculty made the trek, not a record haul for W&M Geology, but a large crowd nonetheless.
Charleston, with its iconic architecture and glorious seafood, is a fine locale for a quick academic getaway from the Spring semester. The meeting’s co-chairs/grand poobahs were Scott Harris (W&M Geo 1988) and Katie Luciano (W&M Geo 2007). They put on a great meeting, and the hospitality was first-rate.
Seniors Kayla Cahoon and Hope Duke delivered up talks, and we had more research presented in poster form. Geographically, our study areas range from the local (the College Woods and Lake Matoaka), to the more distant Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, and the far distant Jovian moon of Europa. Discipline-wise, our academic breadth stretched from coastal geomorphology to structural geology, from paleolimnology to planetary geology.
It is a production getting mobilized to take a cadre of students and faculty to a professional meeting in the midst of a busy semester. But it’s the way we roll, as the W&M Geology department provides our students with authentic research experiences that generate new knowledge. Presenting these results in an off-campus professional setting is a no-brainer. This year’s meeting had more than 750 attendees, more than enough for a critical mass, but far from the overwhelming and impersonal crush of a +10,000 attendee meeting. Large annual meetings are a wonderful spectacle, but the Geological Society of America’s regional meetings serve an important role in the yearly cycle of scientific discovery.
Every year for more than two decades, William & Mary students have presented their research at this Geological Society of America conference. In the process, we’ve covered thousands of miles to reach college towns and cities across the South (including, but not limited to, Athens GA, 1999; Asheville NC, 2012; Auburn AL, 1997; Blacksburg VA, 2014; Chattanooga TN, 2015; Columbia, SC, 2016, Lexington KY, 2002, Raleigh NW, 2001). We had the good sense to fly to more distant regional meetings such as in San Juan, Puerto Rico (2013) and Memphis, Tennessee (2003). A few meetings have been closer to home (Tysons Corner 2004; Baltimore 2010; and Richmond 2017), and no doubt, one of these years we’ll host the meeting in Williamsburg. This year, William & Mary geologists will also present their research at local, national, and international conferences – communicating one’s science is an important part of the research enterprise, and as I’ve noted before, geologic research is also a good reason for travel.
Truth be told, I’ve got a soft-spot for the Geological Society of America’s Southeastern Section meeting because way back in 1989, as a W&M senior, I traveled to Atlanta and served up my first scientific talk. Walking into a meeting room filled with professional geoscientists, whose papers I’d read and re-read as part of my research, was both a heady and intimidating experience as I was the only undergraduate presenting in that session. Yet, by the end of the day and still flush with the excitement of presenting my research in a public setting, I was hooked on the science and knew I’d found an academic home with the Geological Society of America.
Thirty years on that still holds true for me. I hope our most recent road trip to Charleston will provide a similar professional foundation for our current students as they strike out beyond William & Mary.