Science Teaching: Maymester

Author(s): Tim Brouk
Photographs by: Tim Brouk

Dylan Pike

EAPS senior Dylan Pike

Although the course module commonly known as Maymester officially kicks off Purdue’s summer session, most classes start in mid-May and take only a few weeks to complete, giving students a fast way to score a credit hour or two.

Thanks to donations from Purdue, the College of Science and its alumni, the geology program within the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences took several Maymester students to study glacial formations in Scandinavia and the rocky terrain and sedimentary structures of the Southern Alps this past May and June in Italy. It’s safe to say this particular Maymester beat logging time in a classroom in West Lafayette, Ind.

“It will definitely be in the forefront, one of the top-three college memories I’ve got,” says Dylan Pike, a senior from Anderson, Ind.

Prof. Jon Harbor led the two-week Scandinavian expedition and Prof. James Ogg captained the Italian work, another two-week hitch. Most students attended both trips. The Scandinavian session took the students to Norway for a week and Sweden for another week. Their goal was to measure active glacial effects and compare them to the glaciers that covered northern Indiana thousands of years ago. The field study included 15-kilometer hikes in the middle of nowhere and glacier climbing. Peers from Stockholm University joined them.

Zach Umperovitch, a graduate student who also earned his undergraduate degree through EAPS, says this Maymester was the first time he got to travel internationally through the Geology program. He had conducted field research across the country –– Utah, Texas, Appalachia –– but finally seeing what other parts of the world had to offer geologically was something he will treasure.

“They say the best geologist is the one that sees the most rocks,” Umperovitch says. “For me, this was just absolutely fantastic. New cultures, new places.

“It’s learning how to go anywhere in the world and being able to decipher what rocks are what and what happened anywhere. It’s getting that tool in your belt. … One of the major aspects for why we were over there was to get comfortable with traveling. We’re geologists. We should be able to pick up and make it through passports, customs and such. Really getting comfortable in a foreign country. There were times they let us loose and we got to wander around Stockholm but be sure to be back by a certain time. … I think we were all shaking in our boots when we first got there but by the last day we were all comfortable.”

Climbing the Alps offered rugged and somewhat dangerous environs. The leaders selected an area that was home to battles in World War I. The students marveled that these extreme conditions could be a setting for such a historic event.

“It was just two inches of snow which quickly turned to six feet of snow because some guy sinks up to his shoulders,” Umperovitch remembers. “We were looking for this cave no wider than this table, which was what these soldiers used to avoid getting blasted.”

Pike, who had been backpacking in Scotland right before the trip, also found the Alps particularly interesting. Fittingly, Pike’s parttime job is as a rock-climbing instructor at Purdue’s Córdova Recreational Sports Center.

“The tectonic events and the geologic history of that area is just incredibly unique in the world,” he says. “We have large mountains out West, the Rockies, but they are a completely different composition of rocks.”

It’s more than memories that the EAPS students took from conducting field research in three different countries in less than a month. The experience should help them in their post-Purdue careers.

“Not only is this helping our educational background, this is something I can take and use and say ‘I saw all of these places,’” Umperovitch says. “I want to get a job in the oil industry and I saw these processes work and understand them a little better than someone who hasn’t been there.”

Zach Umperovitch

EAPS graduate student Zach Umperovitch