2023 Advancing Excellence

From Rock Hammers to Drones: Investing in Technology in the Field

Assistant Professor Tim Goudge traveled with students from the GeoFORCE Texas outreach program to the Texas Coast this summer to teach them how to study coastal processes with the help of aerial drones. It was everything he hoped – the students were excited and loved the firsthand experience gathering and later processing data. And Goudge was able to introduce a new generation of budding geoscientists to modern field work.

But there were technical difficulties too. One of the iPads a student was using to help navigate a drone overheated, forcing them to land the vehicle by remote control with help from Goudge and graduate student Mariel Nelson. It was a bumpy ride but, luckily, nothing was broken.

The incident illustrates a growing reality in the field. Gone are the days when a rock hammer and a good pair of boots were enough for a student to learn the fundamentals of geosciences. Now, with big data and remote sensing in everyday use, students have to learn how to use a suite of technology in and out of the field.

And when you take equipment to the field, there’s always the chance it will break.

“You go in the field and stuff happens. A bird attacks your drone or a drone tips over and sand gets in parts where it shouldn’t,” Goudge said. “Stuff breaks and fails. It’s part of the research process.”

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Dean's Welcome

Welcome to Advancing Excellence, from Dean Claudia Mora

Mora Headshot

Dear Jackson School Friends,

I hope this letter finds you healthy and in good spirits. This newsletter, Advancing Excellence, is meant to keep you in touch with the Jackson School of Geosciences and to share with you some of the importantways that your gifts impact the school and our students.

A lot has changed since I was a student in field geology (in the late 1970s), working with simple tools: a Brunton, Jacob’s staff, some mylar taped over a topo base map, a notebook, some pencils and a really good eraser. We learned to cover a lot of ground in a day— though never as much as the long-legged field geologist who taught the class! So much new technology is available now for precise location, spatial and compositional characterization, recording and interpreting data. Students are still asked to put the geological story together, but they have a richer toolbox that enables additional perspective and precision. I hope you enjoy our main story about the importance of technology in the field, and the fund started by Albert Haertlein that supports it. The Haertlein Innovation and Technology Fund will help assure that Jackson School students use modern technology in all aspects of their education, and ensure they are ready to put those tools to work in their professional work. He understands that keeping up with technology may be financially challenging, but not keeping up is even more costly to our students’ futures. Haertlein’s fund will support Jackson School and GeoFORCE students now and into the future, when today’s technologies give way to even better ones. The only constant in field geology may be the tireless field geologists themselves.

Speaking of tireless, check out the back cover, where you will see the faces of our hardworking development team, which has moved us more than 80% of the way to our very ambitious capital campaign goal of $110 million. Every year, this team seems to find a new gear as they drive to the goal, rising in virtually all categories.

The Jackson School is starting the fall semester with the largest freshman class in years and we are excited by the greater visibility of geosciences to new students! In partnership with you, we are committed to offering them the very best education possible! I hope you will come and visit when you are in town, meet with our students, attend our annual tailgate party before the game on September 30, or join us for our annual Scholar’s Luncheon in November. You are so much a part of what makes the Jackson School so special!

Hook ‘em!

Mora Signature

Claudia Mora, Dean