Chadron State College
Chadron State College

CSC geoscience students attend back-to-back conferences

December 2, 2013

A group of Chadron State College faculty and students attended the Geological Society of America recently in Denver. A smaller group traveled on the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Los Angeles.

Participating in GSA were Dr. Michael Leite, professor of physical and life sciences, Jennifer Balmat, adjunct professor of physical and life sciences, and students Steve Welch, Joshua Balmat, David Draper, Margaret Darnell, David Keim, Nathan Pindell, Colton Snyder, Nathan Still, Jessie Thalheim and Jason Yuill. Leite, Draper and Snyder continued on to the SVP conference in Los Angeles.

Part of the students’ costs for attending the conference was covered by CSC’s High-Impact Learning initiative. Academic deans Dr. Joel Hyer, Dr. Jo Forstrom and Dr. Margaret Crouse, administer these funds.

The GSA conference was particularly exciting because this was the 125th anniversary of the society. A record number of people —more than 8000—attended the conference.  This was the first large national conference attended by most of the students.

While the throngs of fellow geoscientists dominated the huge convention center and  downtown Denver might have been daunting for Chadron dwellers, the atmosphere instead turned out to be exhilarating and inspiring.

Nathan Still wrote in his blog, “The opportunities to learn at GSA were massive and I seized many of these opportunities…. The session on Fracking was the best session of the conference by far. I took over 6 full pages of notes during the lectures. The Fracking session really sparked my interest….”

Still said he learned about new topics such as the history of the Rocky Mountains, water in space, and metal alloys.

In his blog, Nathan Pindell wrote that one session discussed bringing asteroids into Earth’s atmosphere for mining operations while another discussed future applications that will be used when mankind will one day reference Earth as our first home.

“The atmosphere was thick with the rapid discussions, idea creation, sharing, and loving of the scientific world,” Pindell wrote.

Jason Yuill wrote in his blog, “I was shocked when I listened to some of the statistics and predictions about natural gas and its future. There are several different dynamics between the oil industry, marketing, and the consumers. However, these are unstable relationships and the market can become unpredictable. Other topics included glaciers, petrology and structural geology.”

David Keim wrote, “Something that surprised me both about GSA and our own group was the camaraderie that pervaded everything…. It was clear from jokes people made from the podium and from conversation…that GSA is a tight-knit community, everyone knows someone, and everyone respects each other. Our own group definitely saw some friendships blossoming, and altogether we had a fantastic time together.”

Several students commented on the size of the GSA itinerary – larger than some of their textbooks.

Students felt at home being with so many people with common interests: thinking and talking about Earth, working outdoors on difficult problems, and sharing ideas, said Leite.

The second conference, SVP, was different in several ways.

Leite said, “We had a smaller group traveling to a bigger city to attend a smaller conference. Downtown Los Angeles was, at first, a nerve-racking place for us. Once we got the hang of walking around the city, we were surprised to learn that (1) Angelinos are pretty friendly when you make the effort to talk to them, and (2) there is a large selection of cheap and good places to eat."

The conference itself was much more manageable size than GSA.

Interestingly, vertebrate paleontologists partition themselves into one of two disciplinary groups, loosely known as the mammals and the lower vertebrates. Discovering the subtle personality differences that characterize members of these groups was a conference pastime for the group.

A key takeaway from the conference experience was that attendance at national meetings truly can be “high impact learning.”

"Students in their first semester as well as those in graduate school came away from this event with a revitalized passion for their own studies, renewed conviction for a career or discovery of a career and a good feeling that they are part of a larger community embarking on the same challenging journey. These are dispositions that we just can’t teach in the classroom," Leite said.

For more information on the students’ experiences, see their blogs:, and

—CSC Information Services