S.7 E.1: “I Don’t Have Time for You to Be Demoralized”

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews geology and environmental studies professor Laura Triplett.
Posted on January 11th, 2021 by

Dr. Laura Triplett of the Gustavus Geology Department and Environmental Studies Program talks about how she became a geologist, her research on rivers and collaboration with students, and how she became involved as a teacher-scientist in actions for climate justice.

Season 7, Episode 1: “I Don’t Have Time for You to Be Demoralized”

Greg Kaster:

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life @ Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College and the myriad ways that Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, a faculty member in the Department of History.

Historians and geologists are both concerned with time, but where historians typically reach no further back in time than antiquity, geologists reach all the way back to earth’s beginnings, long before humans appeared on the scene. Their discipline covers literally billions of years. Like many people, I have a layperson’s fascination with geologic time and fossils. That alone makes me eager to speak with my colleague Dr. Laura Triplett of the Gustavus Geology Department, which she currently chairs and the College’s Environmental Studies Program.

Adding to my eagerness is the fact that Laura’s work encompasses climate change, arguably the single greatest challenge to life on earth as we know it. Professor Triplett joined the Gustavus faculty in 2007, the same year, she completed her PhD in Geology at the University of Minnesota. In addition to teaching courses on our planet, the science of dirt, and climate change, geo solutions to name just a few, Laura has also supervised a staggering number of undergraduate research projects outside the classroom. An active scholar, she has a long list of journal publications and conference presentations, an impressive number of them with students, trying to hunt her research into, as she puts it, “How human activities have changed the water quality of lakes, rivers and groundwater, and how the glacial history of southern Minnesota leads to rapid erosion in various ways.”

Both her teaching and research have been supported by numerous major grants from a variety of sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the McKnight Foundation, and the National Science Foundations. In short, Laura is an incredibly accomplished teacher scholar, deeply engaged with the environment and climate change, and it is my great pleasure to converse with her today about both her work and how she came to it. So, Laura, welcome to the podcast.

Laura Triplett:

Thanks, Greg. It’s really nice to be here.

Greg Kaster:

Thanks so much. So, let’s start with how things are going for you right now in this time of COVID teaching. Tell us a little bit about what you’re what you’re teaching and the format you’re using.

Laura Triplett:

Well, it has been a challenge as it has been for everybody. I have been doing as much in person that I can, safely with students. Also doing some online teaching. It feels like about every month that we’re having to adapt to new situations, but I have been prioritizing as much in person as I can because Geology is such a hands-on experiential kind of science that I really am trying to preserve that again, safely, distance, mask, everything, but trying to preserve as much of that as I can.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I was wondering about that, especially, something like Geology where I assume you’re sometimes out in the field with students or not?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, every class that we teach has at least some of the labs outside, almost all the classes also have a weekend field trip or even a week long field trip, so it’s been kind of heartbreaking for me actually that so many of our students last spring and then this fall have missed out on those experiences, which are really cool for learning, but also just really fun for getting to know other students and getting to know the faculty and getting to spend time just really immersing. It’s really immersive learning, right? To be out enough, out nature for a weekend or something. So, we’re hoping to make some of that up over the summer or next fall, I don’t know, but there’s definitely been some missed chances.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That is one of the many downsides of this pandemic for sure. Thinking about today and speaking with you, I took one Geology course as an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. I grew up outside of Chicago, I went to Northern for my BA and then in History, but I took a Geology course, I just loved. Now, I don’t remember what, it may have been an intro course. I remember the professor vividly and I remember just how much more. It was about so much more than just rocks, I mean.

So, maybe we could also have you tell us a little bit about the discipline. I mean, what, I think probably most people think of rocks, not I mean for good reason, but what is the discipline of Geology about?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say that Geology has expanded enormously in the last couple of decades. It may have started out as being kind of about rocks and fossils. But a lot of departments around the country have changed their name actually from Geology to Earth Science because that does kind of broaden what it means to people. My own part of Geology, I mean, yes, I have an enormous rock collection. Yes, I know some things about fossil, but my own areas of interest are things like rivers and how rivers work and change.

I teach about glaciers and the glacial history of the state. I teach a lot about soil and soil developments in my classes. I’ve been doing some research about landslides in Southern Minnesota and the landslide hazards, and that’s just my realm, groundwater. So, I also sometimes call myself an environmental scientist or a biogeochemist, someone who works at intersection of Biology and Geology and Chemistry. Earth Science or Geology really these days is very interdisciplinary amongst the sciences, yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking preparing for this, looking more ore closely at what your work is about just how interdisciplinary it is. I wonder, so you grew up in Minneapolis. Is that right?

Laura Triplett:

I did. Yeah. I grew up right in Southwestern Minneapolis.

Greg Kaster:

What neighborhood?

Laura Triplett:

I was a couple of blocks from Lake of the Isles, fortunately.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, yeah, beautiful.

Laura Triplett:

So, I have many memories of spending time getting down to the lake, getting out into the woods near there.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, it’s so pretty. We, Kate and I, my wife, who used to teach in the history department until she retired, we lived downtown, but I loved walking around the lakes: Lakes of the Isles, Lake Harriet that’s in Calhoun is so pretty. And each lake has kind of its own, well, it must have its own ecology, I suppose, but also its own social ecology straight that’s interesting. So then, so from Minneapolis, were you already interested in Geology in high school even if you didn’t know the discipline? Is it something you were-

Laura Triplett:

No. I wasn’t at all. In fact, when I was looking for colleges, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I was not looking at science programs at all that was not on my radar. I did not think I liked science coming out of high school and when I got to, so I first went to Williams College in Massachusetts and I was thinking, I’ve always loved nature, I loved being outside. So, I took an environmental studies class, but that kind of didn’t gel for me. I felt like we were having conversations, but I didn’t really know enough to have an opinion about something.

But fortunately, in my spring of my first year, the spring semester, I took a class that was co-taught by a biologist, a chemist and a geologist and it was about Environmental Science and we got outside and especially with that geologist, he got us out there. And he said, “So, let’s look at this stream. What’s going on? How’s it working? How has it changed in the last 100 years? What evidence can we find out here in the world to help us understand this natural system?” And my mind just was blown open, like, “Wait, Science is just asking fun questions about the world and then trying to answer them? Oh, I can do that.”

Greg Kaster:

That is great. People who are regular listeners know, I say this so often, and I’m going to say it again. I just love these origin stories and especially when they aren’t about, yeah. So, I had an interest in Geology from the other day, I was two and first, I mean, because as so many of our students, sometimes parents, some students, maybe more often parents, but anyway, they think they have to have it all figured out. Right? What am I going to major in? What’s it going to lead to? And you’re a great example, again, of how a teacher can change one’s life, one’s interests and that’s powerful. Then you went from Williams to Colorado. Why that change? Was it University of Colorado?

Laura Triplett:

University of Colorado at Boulder, yeah.

Greg Kaster:

At Boulder.

Laura Triplett:

There were two reasons: First of all, I’m from Minnesota, but the winters in the northeast were killing me. It was cloudy and icy. I was miserable and that, I just got a brochure for Colorado and it said 350 days of sun per year, and I was like, “I’m going.” So, I have-

Greg Kaster:

Did you ski or do you ski [crosstalk 00:10:11]?

Laura Triplett:

No, I’ve learned to snowboard out there, but I didn’t actually have enough money to do that much so. But the other reason was that at that time, I really wanted to do more than just take classes, so I asked the professors if they had any research I could help out with and at that time, just circumstances, they didn’t have anything at Williams and so, I was feeling a little frustrated and wanting to have more experiences and opportunities. So at Boulder, I knew it having a bigger research program and graduate students, I was able to jump right in and start working on some really cool projects like real-world, solving a problem, trying to understand a complicated environment situation and I’ve tried to carry that forward here in my [crosstalk 00:11:08].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Exactly. You do. I was just going to say doing the kind of research you have students doing, now, we’ll come to that in a bit. I’m just curious. I don’t know if you remember, did Williams have a Geology Department when you were there or was it?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, yeah, they did and they still do and it’s great. And actually, I ran into that same professor who inspired me. I ran into him at a conference a few years ago. It was really fun to reconnect.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. That’s neat.

Laura Triplett:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I don’t know. Is it unusual to have a Geology Department at a Liberal Arts College or is it pretty common?

Laura Triplett:

It is not super common. Here in Minnesota, some of the small liberal arts colleges have a Geology Department and some don’t. I always tell prospective students when they’re coming, like not just trying to sell my college, but if you are someone who’s interested in Earth Science or Environmental Science, just take a really close look at the colleges you’re looking at because I think having an Earth Science, a Geology Department brings a whole realm of knowledge and perspectives that are important to understanding the environment.

And so, I think that makes… I really love it here because we have Geology, and Geography and Biology and Chemistry. We have everything and I work with faculty in all those departments. And I think it’s a better experience for students.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I mean, I obviously don’t work with you and the others, but I love that you’re all there. I love that about Gustavus as well, and we do have a strong environmental studies program. One of the persons I also interviewed early on for the podcast is Jeff Jeremiason. You know him obviously, well. Talked a bit about Environmental Studies with him. So, yeah, I mean, here, here, I couldn’t agree more. So, how did you become interested in… well, tell us a little bit about your area of research, a little bit more and how you became interested in that?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, well, most of my research has been since grad, during graduate school, and then since then, has been trying to understand rivers, and specifically, the history of rivers. So, the thing is about rivers is that they are always flowing and always changing and for most places in the world, we don’t have really good environmental monitoring data that goes back very far. So for example, in Minnesota, we maybe have 40 or 50 years’ worth of reliable scientifically correct data.

Greg Kaster:

Good Lord. That’s nothing. That’s nothing.

Laura Triplett:

No, it’s nothing. In some cases, maybe it’s more like 60 to 70 years, but then you’re starting to get into some questionable methodologies and so, right from… I like how you introduced in the beginning, even from a human perspective, that’s not very long. From a geologic perspective, that’s nothing, so a lot of what I do is trying to use, for example, sedimentary deposits and sedimentary records from the bottom of rivers or near rivers that I can kind of look back in time using old sediments.

And in some way. It’s kind of like using fossils, but there are other chemical signatures in sediments or physical signatures in sediments that we can try to use to interpret what was the river like and the environment like further back into the past, which then helps us better understand today?

Greg Kaster:

How much further back do you go? I mean, is it like hundreds of years or thousands or tens of thousands or?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, good question. I mean, it depends on the project. My work on the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River, we had sediments… my sedimentary records were only going back 400, 500 years, but there are sediments in those parts of those rivers that go back 8000 or 9000 years. Definitely.

Greg Kaster:

That’s so cool. By the way, I love the St. Croix River. My God. When I first saw that river, I’m from as I may have mentioned, from Chicago, that area, the Burbs originally, but boy, what a beautiful river. I still love that river.

Laura Triplett:

[crosstalk 00:15:32].

Greg Kaster:

I feel like I’m in Europe for some reason when I’m at that. I don’t know why. Is there such a thing as a European River, but in any case, so how do you gather the sediment? How do you do it? Is it like sending a tube way down into the bottom of the riverbed or?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah. The first challenge is always to find a place where sediment has been accumulating and that’s difficult with rivers, but once you find something like that, for example, a natural part of the river that’s wider and deeper and collects sediment, there’s a variety of different kinds of cores. Yeah, we have basically, it’s an empty tube that you send down and either drill down or push down into the sediment has various contraptions to keep the sediment from falling back out, as you pull it up, and then take it back to the lab.

Greg Kaster:

And that’s where you do sort of the chemical analysis of it to see the-

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, we have various, at Gustavus, we have kind of a whole suite of analytical instruments to look at the different sizes of sediment grains, sometimes just the assortment of sizes and that sample can tell you something about whether that was a deep river or a shallow river, or whether what the climate was perhaps like. And we have chemical analytical equipments, so that we can look at trace metals or contaminants or pollutants that are sorbed on to sediments to see again, like what was the natural level of that contaminant before industrialized activities were happening in a watershed? And then how did that contaminant change through industrialization and into the present?

Greg Kaster:

So, incidentally, so you’re looking, your own research then is looking at basically what human beings have done to rivers, I mean, yeah, what our behaviors have done. It sounds like at least that’s a big part of your research, but I’m curious about, first of all, I love the idea of rivers changing. I mean, they flow, sure, but they change. And again, that appeals to the historian in me since we’re all about change and continuity, both, which is kind of what you’re, not kind of, that is what you’re looking at.

But I’m just curious about whether… well, there’s so many questions I would love to ask, so I’ll just ask this one for now. But what I mean, are there changes you found in the course of your research over the years that have really startled you or surprised you?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, yeah. There’s always something surprising. I always think I know what’s going on and then you get the data and you realize, “Oh, there’s actually a lot more to this.” One example of thinking about the St. Croix River, what we were doing there was trying to help state and federal agencies decide how to manage that river. So, right now, for those who don’t know, the St. Croix River runs between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Part of it is designated a National Scenic River Way. It’s part of the national park system. It’s really beautiful. It feels really pristine. There’s lots of woods and boating and fishing.

But our question was, is it really pristine? So, with the sedimentary records, we went back in time and we’re able to show, actually, no, there have been big changes to that river and that helped the managers figure out, “okay, do we want to keep it how it is? Do we want to try and improve it back a little bit to how it was more naturally?” You can’t make good decisions till you know what the data is, that’s my goal as a scientist. So, there, I was really expecting to find that massive amounts of soil erosion. I expected to see that soil erosion increased when the pine forests were clear cut, so the forests were starting to get clear cut in the 1880s, 1890s, all through central and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and to me, cutting down trees like that would probably put a lot of soil into the river, it would probably cause a lot of sedimentation. I’d be able to see that in my records.

Surprisingly, we saw a little bit of increase in sedimentation and once you kind of think about it, it is flat, pretty flat terrain around here. So, maybe just cutting down trees doesn’t result in as much erosion as it does at West. In Washington State, you cut the trees down and it’s crazy, the erosions. Here, it wasn’t so much. We found that in the 1940s and ’50s, there were massive slugs of sediment and soil getting down into that river. And we were thinking, “What happened, what was going on in the 1940s and ’50s? How? What in the world?”

And our conclusion was that it was post World War II industrialization of agriculture. Instead of making tanks, now you’re going to take those factories and make tractors. And now, all those big tractors are going to come out on the land and start plowing deeper, plowing more aggressively, plowing more land and that was what we think was the most likely source, so.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, and so-

Greg Kaster:

And that’s like a puzzle you solve, plus it’s doing history, really. I mean, what’s the evidence and then I just love this stuff. I mean, so then, if one sees a tractor, I think about, “Okay, that’s a tractor.” But what impact did the manufacturing of that tractor and the use of that tractor have on rivers that you may never even think about? Was there a lot of agricultural runoff, too or not? Chemical, did-

Laura Triplett:

There was some. A lot of the… so, the St. Croix River doesn’t have as much fertilizer runoff as we actually see now in the Minnesota River.

Greg Kaster:

That’s what I was thinking of, yeah.

Laura Triplett:

It’s a little bit different kind of agriculture happening in the ’40s and ’50s in the St. Croix watershed as opposed to Southern Minnesota. So even then, in some ways, it’s kind of reconstructing human history, but also reconstructing environmental history based on what we know of human history and how do they connect? And you’re right, it is a puzzle, it’s fun.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, yeah. I love it. We’re talking about the environment here and I know, you and I were on a panel, whenever that was, on 1968 and you spoke really, I mean, you spoke powerfully and honestly about your thoughts and feelings about climate change. And I wonder if you could just say a little bit more about that. What how did you become interested in climate change? Both, thinking about it as a person as a citizen, what we can do about it, but also teaching it? Was that just sort of a natural fallout of your own research?

Laura Triplett:

No, actually. My research isn’t specifically about climate change. I began learning about climate change, mainly as a graduate student and becoming a scientist and becoming a professional, starting to hear from more and more directions and more and more colleagues that the data are showing some really scary trends. Climate change is really going to impact every natural system, it’s going to impact economies, it’s going to impact our national security, we need to take this seriously. And I kept hearing that from colleagues.

And when I started at Gustavus, I inherited a course. Every other year, I was teaching in the spring, a course called Climate Change, Global Climate Change. And so, I teach that class and actually, Greg, it was my students, who turned me around because it was one spring. I remember this. It was the second to last day of class and some of my juniors and seniors, three or four of them, hung back after class and they said, “Laura, we are just so depressed. All we hear about in our environmental studies classes, and this class is all these terrible problems and we’re totally demoralized.” And I looked at them and thought, “Oh, my goodness. This is not what I need to have happen.”

I did not want to end the semester by demoralizing my students. And so, thank goodness it was the second to last day and not the last day. I went home that night and I worked my butt off to rethink what am I doing here? What am I teaching students and I brought it back the last day of class and I gave them a pitch that I still use and said, “Yes, this is hard. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but we can do this kind of work. And here are some examples from history of one humanity has come together and solved a really big environmental crisis. We have done it before. Here’s what we need to do people. Get fired up, I don’t have time for you to be demoralized. I need you to be fighting.”

And so that really changed how I teach and also how I act in my own life. It was about that time I started to decide for myself that, you know what? My teaching alone, just teaching in a classroom, was not changing society, changing government policy, whatever, fast enough. And I needed to step. I ended up stepping way out of my comfort zone to try some new strategies to make a difference in this world and to model for students what I think all of us need to do.

Greg Kaster:

What are some of those strategies that you’re referring to?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah. So, the first thing I started doing was calling elected officials and going to things, going to protests. Things like the March for Science or things like various times, there’d be some kind of protests for climate justice or against an oil pipeline, something like that. And I do not like going to those. I don’t like being in a public place, walking around with a sign, I don’t like chanting, I don’t want to do that, but I was feeling desperate enough that we need to, we, as a country, we as a species need to be doing something differently. So I started there. You probably don’t know all of this, Greg.

Greg Kaster:

No.

Laura Triplett:

Just last winter, I started collaborating with scientists at other institutions and also, it’s just a mixture of scientists to really dig in and understand the Line 3 Pipeline, which is an Enbridge project proposed across Northern Minnesota. I learned a lot, I became an expert witness, in fact, for…

Greg Kaster:

Wow.

Laura Triplett:

… Sierra Club, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Honor the Earth…

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Laura Triplett:

… and Friends of the Headwaters because they didn’t have a geologist to really look at all of the studies and reports and data and make an argument to the state about the geologic hazards from that project and whereas, of course, the state agency and of course, the-

Greg Kaster:

The company.

Laura Triplett:

The pipeline company, and you have just legions of highly paid scientists doing this kind of work. And so, the injustice of how science is applied, became really clear to me in the last year, the environmental justice, the racial justice dimensions of how science is available to people became really clear to me. And I’ve learned a lot of really cool Geology just from paying attention to a different part of the state. I haven’t really done research in Northern Minnesota specifically, so it’s been fun to get up to speed on some things or the same everywhere, groundwater flow, it’s groundwater flow, soil is soil, even basic principles, of course, I’m very familiar with, but it’s been interesting to look at a different part of the state.

So it’s been a really new direction for me, but driven by my students continually asking me, “What should we be doing, Laura? You just told us a bunch of really scary data about climate change. What do we do now?” And I have really taken that to heart and said, “Laura, what do I need to do? Well, here’s what I can do and that’s what I’m going to try next.”

Greg Kaster:

It’s just… I mean, that climate change can be sort of, it can be depressing, it can be demoralizing to think about where we’re in and of course, we had you, where I’m sure involved in the Nobel conference two years ago on at Gustavus, its annual Nobel Conference on Climate Change. But what I love about everything you just said one, it’s getting my professor’s juices flowing, just that teaching is dynamic, right? The best teaching where the students are motivating you to rethink. You’re going out, doing that, bringing that back to the classroom, but then also undergoing a pretty profound personal change where you’re out being an activist really, as an activist scientist.

And you’re also just telling us, one of the things I love about Gustavus, even though I’m not a scientist, I love the way the place emphasizes, and I’m not a person of faith, either, I guess, at least not religious faith, but I just love the way the college combines an emphasis on faith and science and the way you’re describing science’s connections to social justice, really, right? Which is part of our mission.

Laura Triplett:

You know-

Greg Kaster:

That’s something you set out to do. Go ahead, yeah.

Laura Triplett:

Well, on that, I really want to say that it was two faculty members from the Religion Department, who made a huge difference in my life and professional life and I wouldn’t call myself a person of faith specifically either, at least not in the traditional sense, but I really owe a lot to Deborah Goodwin and Mary Gaebler and work, I kind of co-lead a group with Deborah Goodwin with students. We created something called the Climate Justice Coalition several years ago.

Greg Kaster:

I remember that.

Laura Triplett:

And Deborah was really one who said, she was saying, to anyone who would listen, “I didn’t realize how severe climate change was. We need to take some action on this. It’s our moral imperative. Here’s what I’m trying to do.” And Mary Gaebler has also been really helpful for me to realize that it’s not the data that motivates me to take action, it’s my values and how I can see that the data impact my values. So, if I value human health and human life, it’s that I know what climate change is going to do to human life that makes me upset or justice or equity.

So, you’re right. I mean, the face, the knowledgeable and wise people at Gustavus, who would think about faith and think about purpose and think about why are we here, that really does permeate. For me, it has really permeated my experience in my professional career here. And I’m just going to say one more thing, Greg. I appreciate you saying that I’m… as a scientist, I hate to… I don’t want to be an activist. I don’t even consider myself an activist, so I appreciate you-

Greg Kaster:

[crosstalk 00:33:00].

Laura Triplett:

Just put that on there that I am a scientist and maybe a scientist activist is borderline okay, for me, but I hold the science first, and then hold my values and moral imperatives next to that.

Greg Kaster:

I know you do and I think, at the same time, what you’re doing, even being just serving as an expert witness around the Enbridge pipeline, I mean, that sort of thing is I mean, that’s one, reminding people that there are debates among scientists, right? I always think about what’s it like to be a geologist working for a big oil company? I mean, I don’t know what compromises one might have to make. Maybe you don’t depending on your values and principles or you don’t feel you are, but just the way in which I think what you’re doing and not just you, but scientists around the country like the scientists, you mentioned, you teamed up with, I feel, we need to fight for science.

We need to fight for science right now. I mean, this has always been a strain in our country’s history, but man, it’s virulent right now, the science denial or whatever we want to call it and there’s certainly that around climate changes, as you well know. What about the teaching? A little bit more about that. I mean, you have this incredible, long, long list of students you’ve worked so closely with. Tell us a little bit about what that’s like to engage students in research and some often with you, right? Collaborating with you and even resulting in co-authored publications.

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, always with me. When I took the job at Gustavus, I knew that I was only going to do research that could be done with students. That’s such a core part of the Geology Department and also my belief in how people learn and how people grow into their profession as a scientist, so yeah. I had a lot, I met a lot of students, I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of funding, so I’ve [crosstalk 00:35:18]. My summer students are always funded, of course, through my grants and the various funds for that.

Yeah, it’s fun. It really keeps me on my toes to have students around and involved in the labs, because I have to. I have a plan and I have to know what we’re doing next and that’s actually the number one thing I say to students at the beginning of summer is like, “You know what? This is not going to be like class, because I’m telling me right now, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. We’re in this together. Research is by definition on the cutting edge of knowledge and so we are on the edge of what I know and don’t know, and I’m just going to tell you right now,” so.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. No, that’s awesome.

Laura Triplett:

I really tend to be in my student researchers as partners rather than… they start as novices, but I build them toward being partners because I really, I need that. I need partners in the work [crosstalk 00:36:20].

Greg Kaster:

Right. To get your research done. Yeah, I mean, are these now, are they all Geology majors or minors or?

Laura Triplett:

No. I’ve had a lot of environmental studies majors…

Greg Kaster:

For sure. That makes sense.

Laura Triplett:

… work with me, but yes, I’ve only ever had Environmental Studies or Geology Majors or we get a lot of double majors, honestly. I have plenty of students who are double majoring in those two because there is such a tight connection.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. This reminds me. Did you know Melissa Lundberg? She has a different last name. She was an Environmental Studies major, also took some. She was in my first term seminar years ago, but you wound up working for an energy company. I think it’s based in the Twin Cities or anyway, I know the Environmental Studies Program at Gustavus best through here and some other students. And yeah, the way they get to collaborate with you or Jeff Jeremiason and others in that program, I think is just terrific.

And I think, certainly, we historians are envious because we need to get to archives to do our work. And sometimes, like my colleague Kate Keller, her archives are in, let’s say, synagogue, right? So it’s not so convenient to take students were so easy, but I think it’s fantastic. It’s one of the great things about Gustavus, that opportunity.

I wonder about if you ever get as I do, well, anyone in history, what can you do with a history major? I don’t know if you get that. Maybe it’s sort of clear as well with a Geology major, I can do go work for an oil company. But what’s your pitch for the Geology major at Gustavus? I mean, why do it? And what are some of the majors doing once they’ve left?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, that’s a great question. We have definitely… I get that question a lot, because Geology is just a word that you don’t see around so much, but there are geologists who work for State agencies, for example, Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, National Park Service, they all employ people with the title of geologist and those would be people who would either be surveying land, protecting land, evaluating different kinds of land or impacts. I also have quite a few students go into environmental consulting, which is a consulting firm. You can probably figure it out, that can be hired by government agencies or industries or small businesses to do some type of environmental evaluation.

We have had some students go into oil or mineral extraction. We have quite some students go into nonprofit type of work, education, so a variety of things. Geology is becoming more and more of our students are going to get a master’s degree within the first three to five years out of college. They decide to go back to school, get a master’s degree. That’s different than college. For those of you who don’t know, Graduate School in Geology would usually be paid for, you would get paid to go to school, so it’s different than college in that way. But that yeah, I think that pretty much encompasses where [crosstalk 00:39:55].

Greg Kaster:

What do you think is most distinctive or compelling both about the Geology Program at Gustavus?

Laura Triplett:

The things we highlight are: We get students out in the field and we get them into the lab. You have real hands-on experience with Field Geology and Lab Geology from classes, from your first class. We also value student faculty collaboration and research. All of our majors either do a senior thesis or do something that we call a professional track, which still has some intensive writing practice and some job shadowing opportunities to really help students discern what they want to do and also get some jobs skills going. We are very serious about preparing students for the workforce or applying for graduate school. And we have a small department, so we get to know each other really well, which is good and I think as makes it more fun and is a good supportive learning environment for students as our intention.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. And I mean, I think you have an awesome department, awesome work. I know how much you’ve made a difference in that department over the years, and I also know you have to go teach, so we’re going to have to end the conversation, which I don’t want to do. Thank you so much. I have so many things going through my head as a result of hearing you. One of which is an old song. I don’t know if this is Bill Staines, a folk singer who sang a song maybe called River, but it’s kind of about a river, I think.

Laura Triplett:

Oh, yeah?

Greg Kaster:

Maybe it’s metaphorical, but anyway, I want to talk more.

Laura Triplett:

Great.

Greg Kaster:

There’s so much more to talk about.

Laura Triplett:

I’d love to.

Greg Kaster:

Well, thank you so much. Thanks so much, Laura, for taking the time. We’ve got to keep the faith, I think as you’re suggesting into your students about climate change. I loved what you said about “I don’t have time for you to be demoralized,” right?

Laura Triplett:

Yep.

Greg Kaster:

I couldn’t agree more.

Laura Triplett:

Good, good.

Greg Kaster:

So, good luck with your class this afternoon.

Laura Triplett:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

What class is that? Is that the first-term seminar?

Laura Triplett:

No, this is my Earth Surface Processes class and we have lab and we’re doing a lab about Mars and the surface of Mars and things shaping Mars, so it will be fun.

Greg Kaster:

Is there water on Mars and all that something?

Laura Triplett:

Yeah, right? They’re going to answer that today, so.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. All right. That’s another podcast.

Laura Triplett:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

All right. Well, thanks so much. Take good care.

Laura Triplett:

Thank you. You, too.

Greg Kaster:

Bye-Bye.

Laura Triplett:

Bye-bye.

Greg Kaster:

Thanks.

Learning for Life @ Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing, Gustavus graduate Will Clark, Class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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