All News

Cool Class: Geology 101 Students Study the Geologic History of the Region

November 30, 2023

Earlier this semester, students in Geology 101: How the Earth Works spent a Sunday in Valley Forge National Park learning geology, identifying rocks, creating geological field maps and collecting their own geologic data.

During lab sections in the weeks following the trip, the students finalized their geologic maps which they then used to model the three-dimensional spatial distribution of the rocks and their orientation. Finally, they took all of their collected data and generated a narrative story of the geologic history of the region over the past billion years.  Even though the students only documented a few different geologic formations on the trip, these particular rock units tell a story that covers the destruction and formation of two separate supercontinents (a single landmass that contains most or all of Earth's continents), the formation of the Appalachian Mountains and the opening of the modern-day Atlantic Ocean.

“The geology field trip to Valley Forge was definitely a big highlight of this course,” says Eden Raich ’27. “It's such a unique experience to be able to take what we're learning in the classroom and see how it translates to the world around us and notice different geological processes and actually understand what they mean. I feel like I've learned how to see the Earth through a new lens, and I love being able to recognize and interpret the stories it can tell us.”

How the Earth Works is co-taught by Professor Arlo Weil and Senior Lecturer in Geology Katherine Marenco. In addition to their research project, students produce a podcast on the geologic topic of their choice.

“The podcast assignment has been a very successful tool over the years in terms of getting students engaged in outside research on a geologic topic,” says Weil. “The students do a great job at presenting their findings in fun and creative ways.”

 The final few weeks of class are focused on geologic processes and systems that operate on the surface of the Earth – e.g., rivers, oceans, and glaciers. The course ends with a discussion on long-term (millions of years) and short-term (years to hundreds of thousands of years) drivers of climate change. 

“ I wasn't going to major in geology before I took the course, but the great department and the subject quickly changed my mind,” says Kit Kringel ’27. 

How the Earth Works will be offered again in the Fall 2024 semester.

"Cool Classes" highlights new and interesting classes at Bryn Mawr. To see the full listing of geology courses being offered, visit the department page. Visit the Cool Classes homepage to see more of these stories from across a range of programs and disciplines at Bryn Mawr.