Local teacher has ‘Life-Changing Experience’ in Cross-Country Geology Camp
Learning geology in a classroom and laboratory is key to understanding and teaching Earth systems, but experiencing geology first-hand in the field to one local teacher, Nathan Upchurch, it was a whole different story.
Upchurch said he was fortunate to be one of 36 teachers from 17 states selected out of over 600 applicants.
The applicants had to answer essay questions and have two letters of recommendation. He is in his 11th year teaching at Texas High School, his specialty and passion, science, which includes earth and space classes and astronomy.
During his three-week adventure from late June into early July, through the Southwest United States, chalkboards and keyboards turned into hiking boots and an a hands-on experience with pieces of raw nature that hold millions of years of history in its layers.
When asked what his favorite location was during his travels, he said there were many, but he really enjoyed the Ouray, Colo. area.
“At one time, it was the most volcanically active area in the world, and the area is known for its large amounts of snowfall,” he said. “There has been many gold, silver, and copper mines in the area in the 1800s especially and some as late as the 1970s.”
Each summer for the last 10 years, Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences has given this opportunity to STEM educators (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) throughout Texas and The U.S. STEM has recently been stressed in schools and universities to increase participants in those areas, to receive training to meet our nations demand in industry and compete with other countries.
“This summer’s itinerary included adventures everywhere from the slopes of volcanoes, to the footwalls of faults, sand dunes, in the depths of glacial valleys, on the toes of landslides, and in pristine streams and ancient marine deposits in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Some locations were near sea level and some higher than 12 thousand feet,” said Dr. Rick Giardino, the professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Texas A&M who developed and leads G-Camp. “Participants studied geological features and also developed curricula,” said Giardino. “Through astounding vistas and sights, such as Capulin Volcano, Great Sand Dunes, Carlsbad Caverns and the Pg-T boundary created when a meteorite struck Earth, resulting in the extinction of dinosaurs. We map Earth’s geological history.”
Teachers spend 12- hour days in an exhausting, but exhilarating whirlwind of learning.
They keep a daily field book of sketches, measurements and general observations, and develop lesson plans each night.
Post-trip, many participants share and present their knowledge and experiences to other teachers within their districts and at state and national meetings.
“I am humbled by our teachers’ ability to translate their G-Camp experiences into life-changing opportunities for their students, and ultimately igniting their students’ passion to pursue science as a career path,” said Dr. Debbie Thomas, interim dean of the College of Geosciences. “I am in constant awe of Dr. Giardino’s boundless energy and drive to provide life-changing professional development opportunities for our teachers.”
Saudi Aramco is the lead sponsor of G-Camp, and the company has continually supported G-Camp for many years.
Generous donations from Chevron and ConocoPhillips also helped support G-Camp in the program’s early years.
Attendees only have to pay for their transportation to College Station.
Once they arrive, their food, housing, and travel costs for the entire three weeks are covered by the program.
Nathan is a 1989 graduate of Queen City High School, and has a passion for science.
He is the son of Gary and Judy Upchurch. He has a major in biology and minor in chemistry.
“I love teaching and learning science no matter what area. What interests me in geology though is I tell students when they graduate that each and every one will be confronted by earth science as an adult. It could be where one lives and be affected by things such as droughts, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, water resources, wildfires or even volcanoes,” he said.
Upchurch also said that many young people will leave the Texarkana area to join the military or travel to other places which have disasters not common to our area.
As a taxpayer or citizen one has to make decisions regarding repairing or building roads affected by erosion or altering an environment. How the community will prepare for natural disasters. “It is a very relevant subject I think for every person,” he added.
“The whole experience was about learning by doing and seeing so many geological processes,” said Upchurch. “As Ben Franklin said, ‘one learns best by doing,’ and we did a lot on this trip. I will now be able to better tell the story of how the Earth has formed and is forming today.”