By Elizabeth Long, GSA Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As we look forward to commemorating a remarkable milestone, the tenth anniversary of our On To the Future (OTF) program, we reconnected with some of our esteemed alumni to hear about the impact OTF had on their lives, and to learn more about their current pursuits and the legacy they continue to forge. We spoke to David Davis about his experience with this groundbreaking program.

David Davis doing field work in Alaska.
David Davis doing field work in Alaska.  

GSA: When did you participate in the On To the Future program? Where were you in your geoscience education and career path? Where was the GSA Connects meeting that year?

DD: My first GSA conference was in Denver in 2016, the same meeting I participated in OTF. I was a sophomore at Georgia State University, majoring in geoscience.  I was visiting a new city, and attending and presenting research at my first national conference; it was a transformative experience.

GSA: Why did you decide to apply to OTF?

DD: Honestly, I was looking for travel assistance and came across the application. Once I read about the program and read the application, I remember thinking, “Wow this is perfect for me.” It became more than just a travel grant and transformed into an opportunity I looked forward to taking advantage of.

GSA: What was your experience like in OTF? What aspects of OTF were most valuable to you?

DD: My experience with OTF was great! I enjoyed our daily morning sessions where speakers talked to us about various topics, from research to networking. I also met with my mentor a few days out of the week. I enjoyed these one-on-one conversations with my mentor because they allowed me to ask questions about conducting research and graduate school and also how to network.

Being an OTF participant is an amazing way to experience a conference! OTF eases new attendees into a conference experience by providing us with a community. Not only do you receive a travel grant, but you also have an opportunity to network (VERY important). It’s wild that I am at Rutgers University, partly because I had conversations with the chair and graduate director of Rutgers Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at GSA Connects. This occurred because I was attending the 2018 OTF workshop as an OTF alum. During this workshop we are given activities and one of those activities is networking. So, I walked through the exhibit hall later in the week, intent on networking, and met the two gentlemen I’m referring to.

GSA: Have you stayed in touch with people you met during your OTF year?

DD: I have stayed in touch with many people I met during my OTF year, there are a few professors but mostly other students. One of the amazing things about OTF is that it brings people together.

GSA: Are you still involved in the geosciences as a career path? What are you doing now?

DD: I am! I am currently a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University in the Marine and Coastal Sciences Department. My research focuses on geomicrobiology, specifically, how halophiles influence halite and gypsum precipitation and the mechanisms behind microbial smectite to illite transformation and associated Fe and K isotope fractionation.

GSA: You’ve stayed involved in GSA since your OTF experience. Can you talk about what keeps you involved?

DD: I have stayed involved in GSA because I feel like there is a place for me in GSA. I have been a member of the Society since 2016. I have attended and presented research at almost every Connects meeting since then, and I am now the incoming chair of the Diversity in the Geosciences Committee. I actually would not have known about this committee had it not been for my experiences, initially as an OTF student, and again as an OTF alum attending the workshops. I also have a responsibility to work toward making GSA as a society, and the geosciences in general, more inclusive. I exist and am pursuing a career in a field where People of Color are woefully underrepresented. As an African American, I must be an advocate for underrepresented students.

GSA: What would you like to see OTF and GSA focus on in the future? Are there particular events or topics you’d like to see addressed?

DD: I would like to see the continuation and expansion of On To the Future. OTF is such an amazing program for students. It helps students adjust to being, and learn what it means to be, a member of GSA, as well as how to be professional and more holistically, a geoscientist. I would like to see OTF become a larger and more long-term program where participants eventually receive training to become mentors to future OTF students. I also want to see GSA and the National Association of Black Geoscientists unite to establish a distinguished speaker series, where a speaker or speakers is/are sent around the country to give talks. There are some amazing Black geoscientists and they deserve exposure and recognition.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

If you are an On To the Future program alum and are interested in sharing your story, please reach out to me at