Selfie of RESESS Intern Keneni Godana in a forest.
2020 & 2022 RESESS Intern Keneni Godana

This summer we’re introducing interns in the RESESS, Geo-Launchpad, and USIP programs to shine a spotlight on the research projects they are completing throughout these 11-week internships and on their interests in geoscience

Keneni Godana recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and minors in public policy and biology. Although they initially entered college intending to pursue a medical career like their father, Keneni found a passion for environmental sciences. They have been interested in nature since they were a child, and eventually this love for the outdoors developed into a desire to protect the environment. Keneni is a returning RESESS intern, having also been in the program in 2020—when it was completely virtual due to the pandemic. In 2020, their research centered on geochronology and geothermology techniques. Outside of RESESS, Keneni has also completed research on race and ethnicity demographics in the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and participated in an REU at the Georgia Institute of Technology that used seafloor topography to create a mantle convection model and explore the origin of life. While they appreciated the accessibility of the online RESESS program in 2020, Keneni is happy to be able to meet everyone in person and work in a physical laboratory on a new project this summer.

Timelapse of RESESS Intern Keneni Godana working on the computer with an appearance from fellow RESESS intern Halina Dingo.

Under the guidance of post-doctoral fellow Dr. William (Billy) Shivenar at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Keneni is exploring failed continental rift zones in the United States. A continental rift zone is a divergent boundary that occurs within weak portions of continental crust above hot, upwelling mantle rock. This convection causes the continental plate to become malleable and eventually tension from the upwelling stretches the plate apart. Normal faults are formed as the plate is pulled in opposite directions, and rift valleys are created in the spaces that open up between large faults.

Using seismic data, Keneni is investigating the compositional differences between the inside of the rift and the surrounding area to constrain the magmatic sources that created these zones. Using a program called Whole-rock Interpretive Seismic Toolbox For Ultramafic Lithologies (WISTFUL) via MatLab, Keneni and Dr. Shivenar are able to convert seismic data into potential compositions, namely magnesium number, which is the ratio of magnesium to iron in igneous rock, which provides chemical compositional information about the magmatic source the rock originated from. This program also provides data that reveal if the magmatic source was lithospheric or from deeper in the Earth. This information could improve rift modeling broadly so that scientists can correct for compositional factors like magnesium number. By understanding not only the rift itself but its surrounding area, other scientists can better model more potential mechanisms on how these rifts formed and failed. 


  1. What has been your favorite part of the RESESS program so far?

I think probably the “collaborativeness” of it. I don’t know how it is for the other RESESS interns. I’m lucky that another RESESS intern is in my lab. We’re not working on the same project, but we’re both doing geophysics, like seismology, as she’s doing more actually with earthquakes and I’m just using seismic data. But if I’m struggling with the code, I’m like, “Do you want to take a look at this?” or she’s like, “Do you see what I see?”… It really makes me happy because I feel like a lot of the research, if not nearly all the research I’ve done, has been either virtually doing that and trying to recreate that, or [just working by] myself. It’s just nice to be in a lab.

  1. What have you gained from your mentorship with Dr. Shivenar?

Definitely just a lot of coding. I came in with a very basic knowledge of coding. I took the R coding class, I use that personally. And then I use Python for multiple personal reasons, like if I’m coding stuff for my friends. I worked with MATLAB for my senior capstone and my previous research last summer, but I was still really, really novice at it. Now [I’m] learning how to make my code more efficient and how to loop things correctly, and what’s…better for the code where things are kind of taxing. I haven’t taken a formal coding class, so all of this has been kind of…googling stuff and watching YouTube videos. It’s nice to have someone who…[is] teaching me how to debug whatever I came in for, but also like in general [say], “This is a cool trick in MATLAB, you can put a stop here,” and all the other stuff. I am really grateful—I’m starting my PhD in the fall. That kind of practical stuff that you don’t get at school is very, very valuable.

  1. Have you learned about any new topics/research techniques that have really piqued your interest?

Natural hazards! I’m really, really wanting to look more into that… Even my PhD project is going to be more mantle convection modeling and mid-ocean ridges… I want to be able to use my data processing skills that I get from the PhD and also look at natural hazard things. This is just using seismic data, but to be able to process that and understand what’s going on would be really, really great and kind of transitioning more into that field. I think I’ll be more of a trained seismologist in grad school. But right now, I think this is just kind of the intro thing that has just certified that this was something I really liked.

Keneni is excited to be starting a PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Dr. Zach Eilon to study mantle convection modeling and oceanic plate tectonics. Keneni wants to ensure their career centers bettering communities through hazard mitigation research, teaching, and mentorship. This summer, they are looking forward to spending time with friends and family in Chicago before moving to California for graduate school!

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