Looking in on the Geology Department: A Student Reflects

The members of the geology department at Pomona College are close-knit. I’ve been aware of the department’s feeling of camaraderie since the moment I walked into the building. It was during my first semester in college; I was going to speak with Robert Gaines, the department chair, in order to see how I can take geology classes as a way to fulfill my science requirement for the Science, Technology and Society (STS) major. This major, focused on the study of knowledge-making practices, requires me to participate in science first-hand. It is a way for me to analyze the systems in place in the teaching and making of science. I wanted to take Introductory Geology, but the waiting list was 100 students long! Gaines said, however, that since I had already taken two semesters of introductory earth science at East Los Angeles College, I would be prepared to take an intermediate- division course. And so it was that I found myself in GEO 123: The Neotectonics of Southern California.

Everyone else in this class is a geology major and at least a sophomore, so as a first-year, of course I felt intimidated. Some of my fears were alleviated once I realized that my background knowledge was on par with my peers. In addition, Linda Reinen, my professor, supported me from the start. I am certain that my position as an STS major—an “outsider”—has enabled me to see things that other students can’t. It is like the saying that Mariane De Laet, my introductory STS professor says, , “A fish swimming in water does not realize that it is in water.” One quirk I noticed was the fact that trees in a cross section of a diagram of the earth, which are shown for reference, were always comically large! For the remainder of the class, I could not stop chuckling.

While taking Neotectonics and speaking to all of the professors in the geology department, I am realizing that there is a place for non-majors and STS students like me. Even though I will never have a laminated photo of myself on the geology department’s wall, I know I have made my mark with them. Said Reinen, “I feel as if I should incorporate more STS themes in my class, because I think they are important.” On the anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, Professor Reinen gave us a link to articles on the resulting tsunami and nuclear meltdown. They were all full of STS topics, arguing about the purpose of science and on how it should be open when sharing information. And for our final project, one question we must research is how a population is affected by living with certain geomorphic features—an acknowledgment to the field of STS.

In the play Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, Niels Bohr says to Werner Heisenberg, “I believe that we don’t do science for ourselves, that we do it so we can explain to others...in plain language.” While I do not have my entire life mission planned out, one of my goals is to be in a position where I can explain science, which often seems mysterious and intangible, to the public. Taking Neotectonics has helped me on the way to reaching that goal; by learning seismology, I will be able to more articulately transmit this information to the wider public. In time, I will also be able to articulate the public’s sentiments on issues in a way for scientists to understand, which is part of what STS is all about