How campus became a field site for budding geologists

Without the option of taking geology students far afield, Professor of Geology Jay Zambito developed a one-of-a-kind geologic field experience using Beloit’s campus.

Geology professor Jay Zambito talks with students about a limestone bench on campus. His Evolutio... Geology professor Jay Zambito talks with students about a limestone bench on campus. His Evolution of the Earth course features a lesson on campus geology.

When Covid first struck and in-person learning was not an option, Professor of Geology Jay Zambito had to get creative. Zambito would normally take students to locations within 45 minutes of campus, such as local quarries in the area, for hands-on experience identifying different types of rocks and resources. But that would not happen for a while.

As he planned an online version of his course, Evolution of the Earth, his goal was not only to teach geology, but also to keep students connected to campus. He filmed himself touring campus, pointing out observations about local geology. The video was posted as an assignment for students to watch while learning remotely.

While students were finally able to return to campus, the lesson on the geology of Beloit College persisted and grew, now with the students walking around campus for themselves.

Students observe the stone carvings on Eaton Chapel. Students observe the stone carvings on Eaton Chapel.

The expanded lesson collaborates with the college archives and history department to uncover when and where materials on campus came from to stimulate discussion and an interdisciplinary approach. Beyond geology, Zambito says, “Students are gaining an appreciation for the history of the campus.”

Ella Aizeki’25 and Brigid Parker’25 took the course in fall 2022. Neither is majoring in geology, but they both found the course to be worthwhile.

“I really ended up enjoying the class,” Aizeki says, “because it gives you an interesting context for the world that we live in.”

For Parker, the geology of Beloit College assignment was a great opportunity to get outside the classroom environment and do some independent work on her own time. The bulk of the assignment took place over two class periods during which students would follow the itinerary mapped out in an assignment packet and answer prompts, such as “What are some invertebrate fossils found in the rocks at this stop?” and “Does this look like the local dolostone that was used to build the water tower?”

Parker found that the lesson paid off, making her think a little deeper not only about the material composition of the campus, but about how the use and transport of materials have changed over time. “I think geology is a good class for anybody to take because it puts things into perspective,” she says.

The assignment also covers the history and significance of the Native American burial mounds on campus. Since Beloit is situated on land once belonging to indigenous peoples, Zambito believes it is our responsibility to contribute to the mounds’ preservation and to try to understand their cultural significance.

An eight-ton granite boulder at the center of campus, a gift from the class of 1906, factors into... An eight-ton granite boulder at the center of campus, a gift from the class of 1906, factors into a contemporary geology course.

Because of its focus on grounding students more in the history of their campus environment, Zambito says that the geology of Beloit College assignment will remain a permanent part of the course.

With Covid safety restrictions finally letting up, the geology department is looking forward to expanding field experiences beyond the campus confines. The first extended field excursion since 2019 will take place in spring, offering students more opportunities to get hands-on experience in the field. It is open to anyone who has taken at least one geology course before then and is a perfect opportunity for students to connect with their classmates and Beloit alumni in the field of geology.

The off-site field excursion begins on campus with a class that meets once a week to familiarize students with the geology of the location they will travel to in May. At the semester’s end, students take a two-week trip to see geology they can’t see at Beloit, and they will certainly make the most of it.

“We might be hiking up a volcano one day and snorkeling the next,” Professor of Geology Jim Rougvie says. “Because we mostly camp on the field excursion, students tend to build a lot of camaraderie that leads to a strong learning community back on campus.”

By: Grayson Jensen'25
December 15, 2022

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