Submitted by Diala Abboud (Macalester College)
It is the evening of July 7th, and I am on the phone with my best friend Gina describing my hopes and fears about being a near peer mentor to the seven Keck students I’d be meeting the next morning. Would they listen to me? NOPE. Would they respect my “authority”? NOPE. Would they snark at me and think of me as a huge dork? YUP. Not only was I predicting the absolute worst outcome, but I was also grotesquely mispredicting the personalities of each and every student I had yet to meet. I worried so much, in fact, that I “stress dreamed” about arriving to the airport to travel to Glacier (we drove, in reality) without my gear, only to find that the group left me! Classic. Now, if you’re anything like Gina, you would say that I’m apprehending very unrealistic worst case scenarios. Turns out, she was right. Thankfully, my fears were obliterated. From having Josh and Etienne accompany me to the airport from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm the following day, to when Jacob and Liz held my hand across certain parts of the trail when I experienced vertigo, to when Bonnie packed my lunch after I arrived from a night in Cleveland back to Minnesota at 8:00 am, to when Anna remained calm while we faced both a mama bear with cubs and a moose all in the same day within 20 feet of our research quarters in the delta, and to when Liza tagged teamed balancing the inflatable kayaks on our heads hiking back from Red Rock Lake whilst singing American Pie after a full day in the field. My experience was better than I could have ever hoped for. The Keck team members have left a lasting impact on me that I couldn’t have imagined even in my wildest dreams. Coming into the Keck project, I had very little idea of what my role would look like. However, with a group as supportive, kind, and optimistic as this one was, assuming my role happened organically.
Submitted by Bonnie Page (Franklin and Marshall College)
Although I had always admired scientists, I never pictured myself being one. In my mind, scientists were geniuses, those who only had natural abilities to excel in scientific pursuits and utilized their time to explore their interests in science, rather than struggling to keep up with the material. By senior year of high school, I thought it would be in my best interest to pursue something that I envisioned myself capable of instead of failing at science.
But then it was time to select my college courses, and throughout the summer I came to the conclusion that I could at least try taking a college science or mathematics course–after all, what harm would an intro course do?
By the end of my first semester, I was actually enjoying chemistry and my other STEM courses. Before college, the mere idea of research turned me off. In my mind, it was something more like a punishment than an interest. My professors and peers gave me a different perspective though, one that was full of wonder, discovery, challenge, and excitement. So, even though I had never pictured myself being a researcher, I began reading and learning more about various research studies and opportunities, and I decided to ask some of my professors about research opportunities on my campus.
After several meetings with my own professors and advisors, I stumbled across Dr. Williams in the Earth and Environment department, who I hadn’t met prior to a meeting I had set up with him through an email. A week later after telling me about his own research, he sent me an email about Keck. The opportunity sounded unreal–2 weeks in Glacier National Park gaining field experience, analyzing data in a real lab and working closely with expert researchers, getting published before my Sophomore year, and even receiving a stipend. It sounded too good to be true, probably too good for a Freshman who was hesitant about their STEM major and had just decided they wanted to try research. But instead of doubting myself or worrying about my lack of geological knowledge, I decided to get out of my own way and go for it. Even if I didn’t get accepted, I would still be proud of myself for trying.
But that’s the beauty of the Keck Consortium; they aren’t concerned about how many geologic terms you have memorized, your ability to receive nothing but As in your classes, or your unwavering confidence in your ability to do STEM. It’s about your passion, curiosity, and desire to push yourself and become an integral part of a team determined to learn and grow. I can guarantee you that no one is a professional in the beginning, and perfection is not a sustainable goal for science or for yourself.
Research takes time and patience. It begins with taking the initial step, then another small step, then another, and another. Before you know it, 5 weeks have gone by, you’ve pushed yourself to physical limits you didn’t think you were capable of, collected 21 core samples that date back to at least 13,000 years ago, seen some of the most astonishing alpine landscapes and wildlife of your life, and pooped in the woods. You’re basically Bear Grylls, but you’ve learned that mud is one of the coolest (and stinkiest) history books you’ll ever come across.
During our days at Glacier National Park, we were a subject of curiosity to the many park-goers crossing our path. From carrying loads of gear down trails to kayaking our coring raft on the lakes, we stuck out and people wanted to know what we were up to. This meant we had to get really good at explaining things, to individuals with a wide spectrum of knowledge. We each came up with an elevator pitch and tested them out, but soon realized that we had to pay attention to our audience as well. We encountered people with no clue about glacier processes and on the other end USGS researchers who did this kind of work on the regular. Finding the perfect balance between complex and interesting was a challenge, but after a lot of trial and error, it came naturally.
One day, while a part of our group was coring on Swiftcurrent Lake, a few students and I stayed on the stream entering Swiftcurrent to measure sediment concentration and water discharge. This meant we wore our waders, which to the public was a hit attraction! We were situated underneath a bridge which was frequented by hikers, so throughout the day people would stop and stare, prompting us to greet them and strike a conversation. Everyone we spoke to was super excited to hear about what we were doing and often asked intriguing questions. It was amazing to connect with so many individuals, to the point where knowledge of our work was being spread throughout the Many Glacier area. We also got to fill in the Rangers on our findings, allowing them to talk about it to visitors during hikes, who we would then run into around the Many Glacier Hotel or in our campsite! This research experience connected our group to people from all over the world, demonstrating clearly how not only the field work being done was important, but being able to share our discoveries as well.