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Strata of distinguished alumnae/i and faculty: Bryn Mawr's geology department



It is said that if one met a female geologist trained before World War II, she had studied at Bryn Mawr! Florence Bascom, the first woman granted a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University in 1893 and the first woman to earn a doctorate in geology from a U.S. university, came to Bryn Mawr College two years later to establish a Department of Geology for women. A century after its founding, Bryn Mawr's geology department is still training professional geologists who are at the top of their field; 65 alumnae/i of Haverford College from 1944-1994 also are Bryn Mawr undergraduate geology majors.

In 1896, Bascom was the first woman employed by the U.S. Geological Survey as a geologist. The results of her work in the study and mapping of an enormous area covering southeastern Pennsylvania, norther Delaware, northern Maryland and eastern New Jersey remain the prime source of geological information for much of the region. In 1924, she was the first woman elected to sit on the Council of the Geological Society of America. Bascom's students, Ida H. Ogilvie '00; Eleanora Bliss Knopf '04, Ph.D. '12; Anna Jonas Stose '04, Ph.D. '12; and Isabel Fothergill Smith '15, Ph.D. '22 became well-known in the profession. Bascom retired from the College in 1928; distinguished retired faculty of the department who followed Bascom included Edward H. Watson; Lincoln Dryden; Dorothy Wyckoff '21, Ph.D. '32; and Lucian Platt.

In 1996, the original one-woman department has expanded to four faculty members. Maria Lusia B. Crawford '60, who specializes in the analysis of metamorphic rocks and minerals, spoke at Reunion 1996 about our changing understanding of mineral resources from an environmental perspective (see pages 14-16). William A. Crawford specializes in petrology and geochemistry of crystalline rocks, doing field works as close to home as Pennsylvania and as far away as Alaska and Egypt. W. Bruce Saunders, a paleontologist by training, has been active in a 20-year study of the chambered nautilus and deep-water crustaceans that has provided a basis for understanding how their long-extinct fossil counterparts, the ammonites, might have lived. Mark J. Johnsson is particularly interested in factors controlling the extend of chemical weathering and the changes in climate reflected in the compositions of sediments and sedimentary rocks. Johnsson directs the College's new concentration in environmental sciences, which allows students to major in either anthropology, biology, or geology. Courses addressing environmental issues also have been introduced by the departments of economics, political science, philosophy and the growth and structure of cities.

The Geology department celebrated its centennial throughout the 1995-6 academic year with distinguished alumnae/i speakers from both Bryn Mawr and Haverford at its Friday Journal Club meetings. A May 4 alumnae/i panel discussion on the role of geology and geologists in the 21st century was moderated by Rhea Graham '74, Director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines (see pages 12-13). Panelists were Priscilla C. Grew '62, vice chancellor for research at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Robert R. Jordon, M.A.. '62, Ph.D. '54, State Geologist and Director of the Delaware Geological Survey; Daniel R. Sarewitz, Haverford '78, Program Manager of the Institute for Environmental Education of the Geological Society of America; and Pinar O. Yilmaz, M.A.. '79, an exploration geologist with Exxon.

Although the panelists hold different types of positions- in academia, not-for-profit, the government and industry, they agree that geologists must maintain an underpinning of science and strong basic research programs in order to be good servants to the community, and for that, they must defend the need for continued funding from government and business. Panelists also agreed that they approach problems similarly as a result of their training. "On typical integrated project team assignment, for example, a geologist, reservoir engineer, petrophysicist, risk analyst and a statistician may work on different parameters of the problem- often in the same workroom for long hours- within his or her speciality, but they all have the same focus and come together at the end, " Yilmaz said. "A geoscientist who comes in from another culture, in which they've been trained differently, may go off and spend five months alone reading up on every possible detail. They would never go to an engineer and ask for a viewpoint about a problem. They are so isolated in their specialties that they find it difficult contributing to the team initially because they are not used to working on a daily or even hourly basis with other disciplines."

"I interact with geoscientists from different countries such as China, Argentina, Norway, France and Holland," Yilmaz said in a later interview with the Bulletin. "People are not as conversant in English as we take for granted. This is even more true in industry than in academia; the petroleum language is English, but that does not mean these scientists all speak fluently. If you can at least greet the person in their own language, however brokenly, they're more than willing to help you, and then you can say, 'Can you please find someone who speaks English?' "

Yilmaz did her field thesis and later doctorate in southwest Turkey on structural geology and tectonics. She always thought she'd work at a university or geologic survey. "If anyone had told me I'd work for an oil company, I would not have believed it. Yet here I am. I have enjoyed my projects and always managed to change my assignment to something I liked doing. But, it is also very competitive and cutthroat. There are very few women at the top in the industry although more are coming up the pipeline each day.

Yilmaz participated in the International Geological Congress in China this past summer and is part of a multi-discipline team studying tectonic evolution of Greater China for high-grading basins that Exxon might want to explore.

"There are still many exciting and interesting careers for finding and producing commercial hydrocarbons around the world," she said. " But you will have to have skills at an expert level in one or more fields to be successful in the future. As long as you're technically outstanding, geographically flexible, can work in a team and adapt to a dynamic work environment, you could have it all."

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"Submit your life to the 'fun test'!"

Genevieve Atwood '68 says she feels "split in half" lately, but clearly is a woman of many more than two parts. In addition to running Earth Science Education, she is completing research on the Great Salt Lake for a doctorate.

A fourth-generation Utahn, she was elected to the Utah State House of Representatives at the age of 28- and as a Republican in a state that was then predominately Democratic. While serving in the House from 1974-1980, she successfully sponsored major legislation including Utah's Surface Mining Reclamation Act, the Utah Seismic Safety Advisory Council Act, and Utah's Open and Public Meetings Law ("Sunshine Law").

"I left Bryn Mawr with a hyperactive social conscience and a good grounding in science," Atwood said. "I went into Wesleyan's Masters in Teaching Program, because I thought I would like to teach earth science, took my first geology course, absolutely loved it and got my Masters in Geology.

"In my first job at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., which I got through the Bryn Mawr New Girls Network, I worked on environmental and resource issues. We saw our reports become law so fast, it almost made you blink- you said, 'This system is not too slow; this system is almost too fast!' I recognized the scientist's power as policy maker.

"A friend of my father's said, 'Submit your life to the fun test! What do you want to do- go back to graduate school and get your Ph.D. in geology, join the federal government (which was attractive to me, but largely closed to women at the time), or try to get a job with a mining company, or run for the Utah legislature?' (I didn't know that he told lots of people to run for the legislature.) I headed west, home to Salt Lake City.

"I've got the 'helpful gene' and deep down inside was always interested in politics. The seat for the Utah House of Representatives in the area where I live was open, and although a former representative was running, I ran. To my surprise, but even more to my opponent's surprise, I won.

"There are a tremendous number of public policy issues that involve science. When you are a legislator and have a scientific background and connections, you can make a difference the minute you place a phone call from the floor.

"Because being a state legislator is a part-time position in Utah, I had joined an engineering firm as a geologists, its first woman professional. Gradually, my salary and responsibilities went up (I had originally been willing to work for what they paid the rodman on the survey team), and working as a scientist with engineers was another eye-opener for me. Geologists want to know why something happens. Engineers want to know what's going to happen."

Atwood was named Utah State Geologist in 1981 and served eight years as Director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey. During her tenure, Utah suffered the disasters of the wet cycle of the 1980s. "The Great Salt Lake went up 12 feet," she recalls. "There was rampant flooding and mud flows. These forces were much bigger than we were, and I argued that the best advice was to respect the earth, the flood, the lake, rather than trying to think we could control it. Sometimes I was heard and sometimes not.

"I loved the Survey but realized I was beginning to lose focus on my priorities and left to start the earth science education program. I also ran for Congress in 1990, but should have known just from my Bryn Mawr math background that you don't have much of a chance to run against an incumbent!

"So, I'm a smattering of the many things you can do as an earth scientist. You can work for a not-for-profit, private industry, or government. You can be a policy-maker or a grunt worker. And you can make a difference at every level."

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 photo of Rhea Graham

I have a hammer....

Rhea Graham '74

After a stint as head of New Mexico's state Mining and Minerals Division, Rhea Graham '74 vowed never to allow to go unchallenged the notion that government service and teaching are for less dedicated scientists.

"I discovered that public service could be rewarding and met many 'faceless bureaucrats' who are actually qualified individuals that care about their country and the public good," she said. (Others feel the same way about Graham. In the process of researching this article, the Bulletin was in touch with her colleagues in the U.S. Geological Survey who described her as "one dynamite, classy lady.")

Graham grew up on her parents' working farm in Indiana with a strong family heritage of teaching and education. She came to Bryn Mawr thinking she might concentrate on foreign languages, but decided that she could read literature on her own and chose geology as a major instead.

Professor of Geology Bill Crawford tells an anecdote which reveals the dry sense of humor that accompanies Graham's deep respect for dignity of the individual. "During a rainy field trip in 1974, we were in a cow pasture looking at innumerable limestone outcroppings with fossils," Crawford recalled. "Students keep asking my colleague Bruce Saunders, "Mr. Saunders, what's this," and he said, 'If one more person asks that question, I'm going to smash the specimen with my hammer.' Well, Rhea, who did not grow up on a farm in Indiana for nothing, sweetly pointed to a very green 'cowpie' and asked, 'Mr. Saunders, what' this?' Saunders turned to me and asked, "May I borrow your hammer?"

Graham took her masters' degree in geological oceanography from Oregon State University and says her training in oceanography helped her bridge changes in the field, particularly those involving environmental issues. "Everything is mixed together in the ocean, so you have to study physics, chemistry, geology, and biology," she noted.

Her first job after graduate school was with Exxon in Gulf Coast onshore exploration. She wanted more opportunity to do fieldwork, however, and subsequently took an engineering geology job in Oregon. She has had over a decade of experience in geotechnical and environmental consulting and worked as a research scientist for the Agricultural Department's Forestry Sciences Laboratory in the Pacific Northwest before moving to New Mexico.

During Graham's tenure at New Mexico's Mining and Minerals Division, a hardrock mine reclamation law to be administered by the Division successfully passed the state legislature. She also worked with Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) in Albuquerque, NM on waste management and safety compliance projects which included providing expertise in preparing environmental compliance audits of the hazardous and mixed waste facilities at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Graham and her husband Clifford Dahm live in New Mexico with their two daughters.

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