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Digging deep into Earth’s science

Geology majors learn from experience

Contact: Curt Smith

In a recent classroom lab at Central Michigan University, students sat at the edges of their seats prepared for what could only be called a rocking good time.

CMU professor Mona Sirbescu stood at the front of the room with an enormous rock in her hands. The geology expert gave an introduction to the lab her class was preparing to tackle. Today, she announced, they would be creating their own igneous textures – they were going to create crystals from simulated magma.

"Most of the time students don't know they want to study geology until they take an introduction class," Sirbescu said. "Then, they're hooked."

Students donned safety glasses and milled about the room to design their crystal-growing experiments, separating into teams of four and five as they discussed various methods for growing the biggest crystals. The lab was just another day for the students, all geology or hydrogeology and environmental science majors. Milford sophomore Josh Cichy admits he found himself hooked after his first geology class at CMU.

"When I started at CMU I thought I wanted to explore environmental science," the geology major said. "But after one geology class my first year, I knew for sure I wanted to major in it."


Geology classes include a balance of lab, classroom and fieldwork for students in the program. Students have opportunities to take multiple trips with faculty members to geological destinations around the country, including rock outcrops in West Virginia, copper and iron mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and oil fields in west Texas to learn more about the mining and petroleum industries.

"The opportunity to learn in class and in the field really sets this program apart," Cichy said. "We get to go out there and actually see and feel the geology, we don't just read about it in a textbook."

As the lab wrapped up and students snapped photos of their crystal creations to share with one another, they compared experiments and chatted about the next upcoming field trip. Sirbescu hovered over the lab tables, carrying around rock samples from Hawaii and South Dakota showing students actual crystal formations created in nature and comparing them with the experimental results.

"The experiences offered in geology help students grow, and I see a lot of growth in my students as they progress through CMU," Sirbescu said. "What we offer here is unique, and I always hope to stay in touch with my students when they leave."

Click here to learn more about Earth and Atmospheric Science at CMU.

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