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EES Field Campers Gain Invaluable Hands-On Experience

Last summer, 29 eager and curious students hiked up mountains, braved intense weather conditions, and traversed rugged terrain, where they explored, conducted research, and camped in awe-inspiring places during Lehigh’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) field camp experience. Accompanied by EES faculty and staff, these students from Lehigh and other institutions trekked across the country in a fleet of 12-passenger vans, traveling from Lehigh University to the Bighorn Basin, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and the Beartooth Mountains. For five weeks, the young scientists were pushed out of their comfort zones and learned and put into practice skills that are vital to any career in earth sciences.

“The camp is not just an experience for technical learning or academic learning,” said Dr. Claudio Berti, camp director and EES professor of practice. “Students also learn skills that they eventually will use if they pursue a career as geoscientists and do field-based research on their own.”

Operating every summer but one since 1975, the camp is a selective program that provides aspiring geoscientists and environmental scientists with an intensive field training and discovery experience. Over the years, it has educated more than 2,000 students from Lehigh and many other top colleges and universities. Nationwide, the number of schools that offer field experience is shrinking, so fewer camps are being offered. Thus, Lehigh’s field camp gets “swamped” with applications.

After being halted following the 2013 camp due to a lack of resources, the Lehigh program was revitalized in 2015 for three more years thanks to a generous $309,000 gift from Chevron. Berti returned to Lehigh as field camp director after serving as assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Delaware. Previously, he was a Lehigh EES post-doctoral scholar and co-director of the field camp.

Field Campers Gain Direct Exposure 

Companies like Chevron look to hire quality, field-trained geologists, and Lehigh’s field camp is an immensely important experience for environmental science or geology majors. Many jobs and graduate school programs require field experience to be accepted. The field camp is ultimately a capstone experience that provides a well-rounded conclusion to the course of studies, wherein students can apply their skills and challenge themselves in a real-world experience. For those who want to pursue a professional career, many states today require field camp experience to be able to register in the professional geologist list.

“Your classroom becomes the Badlands and Yellowstone National Park. The experience taught me how to adapt, which I feel will come in handy in any career path I choose,” said Mary Petit ’16, an EES major who attended camp last summer. “I learned a lot of field techniques and how to work effectively in all types of field conditions. Your surroundings are never going to stay constant, things are not always going to work in your favor, and field camp taught me how to handle these situations and still get my work done.”

The required background for students applying to the program includes the completion of at least four of the core courses for geology or environmental sciences, a good academic record, and letters of recommendation. This helps to determine whether the students are fit for participating in the camp, which involves living in close quarters for a long time.

Berti said that the biggest challenges of the camp were figuring out the logistics of moving almost 30 students, as well as faculty and staff, in new project areas and ensuring that the camp experience went flawlessly and was safe. The faculty in attendance included Professors Steve Peters, Frank Pazzaglia, and David Anastasio, EES department chair, as well as four graduate teaching assistants.

Berti added, “Part of the adventure and a strong characteristic of our camp is that sometimes you have to come up with some very creative solutions. Nothing is impossible to a well-motivated group of young scientists!”

The 2016 Field Camp

This summer, 30 students from 19 different institutions have been selected to participate in the field camp from May 31 to July 2. In preparation, Berti said some of the technical equipment will be replaced including new iPads and tablets that will enhance the group’s mapping skills. This summer will also offer the opportunity to explore a new project area in the fold and thrust belt of Montana.

“We put a lot of effort in updating and renewing our projects,” Berti said, “so that our students can always get the best possible learning experience.”

-- Klaudia Jazwinska ’18