Q: What are your current research interests?
My interests like primarily within the broad topics of stratigraphy, paleoclimatology, and critical zone science. I continue to work on paleosols primarily as a record of past hydrologic conditions and processes, and I have ongoing projects looking at: tree throw as agent of erosion in forested hillslope environments; modern hydrologic and paleoenvironmental conditions of formation of vernal pools on shale saddles in the valley and ridge physiographic province; Paleocene-Eocene tectonic evolution of southern Alaska; Paleocene-Eocene global paleotemperature reconstruction; Li and other REE content of Pennsylvanian coal measure strata; C-Q relationships in rivers and public percepton of that information.
Q: What lead you to your specific field and when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in your specific field?
I am at my core a historian. My career has allowed me study the history of Earth. My mother facilitated my interest in nature, rocks and minerals, and always supported my deep interest in American history. When I went to college I initially declared myself a History major. But after my introductory Geology course I immediately changed that declaration.
Q: What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
There are many aspects of what I do and have done that are societally relevant. First, we can look to the stratigraphic record for analogs to the future, for example, by looking at past greenhouse episodes in Earth history we can get a glimpse of where humanity is taking the planet in our grand experiment of global warming. Further, understanding natural Earth processes is key to determining how humanity can continue to exist and move toward sustainability – as we continue to dominate the planet, we continue to degrade many natural processes that we rely on – so we need to recognize the importance of those processes, mitigate our negative impacts on them, and in some cases engineer solutions to those processes we have damaged beyond repair.
Q: What makes the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences unique and why come to Penn State and choose a major in EMS?
The College provides a rather small and friendly environment for learning and research within what otherwise is an enormous machine called Penn State. That we have some of the top departments in the nation speaks for itself.
Q: What are some of the career opportunities for students who a choose major in your field?
Career opportunities exist within academia, local, state and federal government, industry and consulting. The need for well-trained Earth scientists will continue to grow as humanity continues to degrade the environment and require more natural resources.
Q: Do you offer opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research? If yes, please describe briefly.
I have a range of research opportunities for undergraduates listed through the Department of Geosciences, but those mostly focus on developing a project for the required senior thesis.
Q: What advice would you like to share with incoming or current students?
Take advantage of the research opportunities available to you and the relatively small and friendly atmosphere of the college to develop relationships with faculty. Those connections can be key to next steps in your career.
Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I am an avid SCUBA diver, professionally and personally, and have dived in some relatively extreme settings.
Q: Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
I grow a beard nearly every winter and shave it in spring.
Q: How do you like to spend your free time?
Outdoors. I am an avid hiker, backpacker, swimmer, biker in warm months, cross-country and downhill skier, snowshoer, skater, etc. in cold months. I SCUBA dive year-round.
Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
There are many but most recently I was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, received NSF-funding through the Belmont Forum, and co-chaired Penn State President Eric Barron’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force.
Q: If you could go back in time, what if anything would you do differently as a student?
Learn how to study at an earlier age. I mostly sailed through an advanced honors curriculum in public high school, and then was hammered my freshman year at a small liberal arts university.