This summer we’re introducing interns in the RESESS and Geo-Launchpad programs to shine a spotlight on the research projects they are completing throughout these 11-week internships and on their interests in geoscience.
Allison Sowers, a student at Front Range Community College, and Jimmy Swift, a recent graduate of San Juan College and incoming student at New Mexico Tech, are working together this summer during the Geo-Launchpad program.
Allison originally obtained an associate’s degree in Environmental Science and was particularly interested in conservation. She was inspired by her grandfather, who was a geologist and cartographer with the USGS, and recognized that the physical environment was intertwined with conservation, causing her to go back to Front Range Community College to obtain a degree in geology. Allison was drawn to the Geo-Launchpad program since it was a more academic internship that supported community college students and would allow her to gain career skills, exposing her to the rigor of academic and professional work that would be expected of industry professionals and graduate students.
Jimmy first became interested in Earth and planetary sciences when he was in elementary school. He first started by rockhounding and gradually grew more interested in geology, eventually attending rock and mineral shows and developing a passion for geology. Jimmy just finished his associate’s degree in geology at San Juan College and is attending New Mexico Tech this fall to earn a bachelor’s degree. One of Jimmy’s professors at San Juan College told him about the Geo-Launchpad program. Excited at the prospect of travelling to Boulder and the independence it came with, as well as the opportunity to gain geological work experience, Jimmy eagerly applied to the Geo-Launchpad program.
Sky Bristol, Lab Director at the USGS in Lakewood, CO, is mentoring both Allison and Jimmy this summer. Their project focuses on creating an accessible, interoperable database that serves as a catalog of scientific information. Presently, most agencies within the Department of the Interior have their own databases to catalog subsets of scientific information. The goal of this new database is to combine all of the data from different departments into one resource, which would include information about the geological assets and resources throughout the United States. With this information easily accessible in one location, it should be easier for scientists to understand big picture trends; for example, the relationship between geological data with weather data or sea level rise data. This is a lofty project, so Allison and Jimmy are starting with a smaller component of the database: completing a trial run with data from two geochemical laboratories in Denver and standardizing their data outputs.
- What has been your favorite part of the RESESS program so far?
Allison: That first week was so much fun, like when we got to go on field trips. Taking the walk through time with Lon [Abbott] was incredible because I’ve been to Red Rocks so many times before. I really understood the history of the geology [after the trip]… That was probably one of the coolest things we’ve done. Such a great day!
Jimmy: My favorite part so far has been the people, getting to do a lot of activities with the interns. After hours, we’re going out into Denver… Just really hanging out with the same type of people as me that are interested in the same field that I’m in. Being the youngest, I get to see everybody’s perspective of how they went through everything in the beginning and what they’re doing now. I like taking tips from them.
- What have you gained from your mentorship with Sky Bristol?
Allison: He’s super smart and incredible with the way that he shares information. So smart, almost intimidatingly smart, but he breaks it down for Jimmy and I.
Jimmy: Some interesting skills in Python. Some more basic skills in Python, learning how to make databases. Right now, we only did a Google Colab sheet where we were taking information from NI301 reports..and getting all of the data from them. He’s still trying to work on getting us in touch with some mentors that are in the degree field that we desire and setting up a meeting for us to talk with them and discuss their interests, their paths [through] college, and that kind of stuff.
- Have you learned about any new topics or research techniques that have really piqued your interest?
Allison: The whole project is Python coding and the amazing stuff that we can do with it, especially for spatial data. I think that it is the [most popular] growing programming language for what we’re doing, with scientific research… Just learning the skills for that is exciting and really quick. It almost looks like magic when Sky is typing on his computer and he runs the code, I’m like, “What is happening?” It’s so cool! And it really streamlines workflows for people. It can cut down on hundreds of hours that you would invest, you can do it in five seconds with a code. It’s so cool.
Jimmy: Definitely the SQL database kind of stuff, or just learning Python in general. It’s a really good skill to have apparently, from what I’m hearing in the scientific community, because everything is becoming so much more technologically advanced. That’s a skill desired in the workforce…and grad school. I have a love-hate relationship with Python, but it has forced me to learn.
Allison just received her second associate’s degree in geospatial science and hopes to pursue the bachelor’s of applied science at Front Range Community College in geospatial science. After working for a few years to further explore her research interests, she then hopes to obtain a master’s degree in either remote sensing or biological oceanography. After completing the Geo-Launchpad program this summer, she is looking forward to visiting her family in Michigan for the first time since the pandemic began!
Jimmy will be starting his bachelor’s degree in geology at New Mexico Tech this fall. He’s hoping to eventually study volcanology or exogeology, or to explore utilizing his geological skills in the military. Other than going to check out New Mexico Tech’s campus in Socorro this summer, Jimmy plans to visit Denver again with his friends and family.