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.
Skye Fernandez is a rising third-year student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She began to develop an interest in environmental science at a young age after she watched “The Lorax.” Skye was fascinated with natural disasters, weather, and space, and would often go to the library on weekends to read about science. Although she grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, Skye always knew that she wanted to live closer to the mountains. She entered college undecided and later switched her major to environmental studies with a minor in political science, intending to pursue a career in environmental law. After working as a server throughout the school year, Skye was committed to obtaining a research internship in order to learn more about the research process. She was excited about the opportunity that RESESS offered to learn more about Earth science and to gain research experience. During this internship, she changed majors to geology and is hoping to continue pursuing her summer research in the fall of 2021.
Several faculty members at University of Colorado Boulder are mentoring Skye this summer, including Dr. Lon Abbott, Dr. Rebecca Flowers, and PhD student Barra Peak. Skye is using apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronology dating to examine the difference in exhumation dates—the timing of uplift from depth towards the surface—in the southern Rocky Mountains and the Front Range region of Colorado, while trying to reveal how much of southeastern Colorado was affected by this exhumation event. By dating rocks within and surrounding the Front Range region using thermochronology, she hopes to determine when episodes of erosion at the 1.5-2 km scale happened in this given area.
Skye is hoping to understand why an age difference exists between the two regions and uncover the extent of the region that was impacted by this large-scale erosion. This information will hopefully allow Skye and her mentors to hypothesize why there is a difference in exhumation in the southern Rocky Mountains and Front Range region and determine how far this difference extends. The exhumation of the Rocky Mountains and Front Range region has been widely debated by scientists since what exactly caused this large-scale erosion event is unknown, yet understanding this difference plays a key role in ascertaining the geographic history of North America.
- What has been your favorite part of the RESESS program so far?
The diversity of the RESESS program is very unique and special for me, because I’m able to build long lasting relationships and share experiences with people who look like me in the Earth science field.
- What have you gained from your mentorship with Dr. Abbott and your other supervisors?
I feel like I have learned so much from all of them… Lon has shown me how to dive head first into research without the fear of failing, because in research you fail often. Hitting walls challenges you to think outside the box and really grow alongside your project. He tells me to question everything and everyone, including himself. Outside of our research, Lon has been an incredible writing mentor and I have learned a lot from his weekly writing seminars.
- Have you learned about any new topics or research techniques that have really piqued your interest?
I am really enjoying learning this (U-Th)/He thermochronology technique we’re doing in the lab. At first it’s hard to understand why all these tedious, time-consuming parts of the processes need to be done. Now that I am able to understand the broader applications of thermochronology, I really appreciate what we’re doing. We’re hoping to do thermal modeling later on at the end of the project and I think that’ll be really exciting.
Because of the RESESS internship, Skye decided to switch her major from environmental science to geology. Although the jobs presented in Career Circles, professional development events organized by UNAVCO in which professionals share about their career paths and work, were ones that Skye wanted to pursue, she did not feel that her environmental studies major was properly preparing her for those professions. She also appreciated that solid Earth science was less abstract than environmental science. After going on a two-day rock sampling trip with Dr. Lon Abbott and fellow RESESS intern, Zulliet Cabrera Gomez, Skye had the chance to talk about “the ins and outs of science.” She said that the night they got back from their rock sampling trip, she changed her major to geology.
Once she completes her bachelor’s degree in geology, Skye hopes to go to graduate school. She wants to learn more about how mountains are shaped over time and explore glaciology. As for exciting summer plans, Skye recently had ACL surgery, so unfortunately the rest of her summer will mostly be spent focusing on rehabilitation.