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IU Northwest News

Alumna takes opportunity to new heights

Field experience in South Africa solidifies career goals for geology major

Wednesday Jul 10, 2013

As Ryan Venturelli took in the mountainous view while surveying rock formations in South Africa recently, perhaps she paused to reflect on her first days at Indiana University Northwest when she decided to nix her initial plan to become an accountant and instead pursue geology.

“I like that I won’t have to be sitting at a desk for the rest of my life,” said the 23-year-old from Schererville who earned her B.S. in Geology in May. “There are so many different directions you can go and I love that.”

Fresh out of her undergraduate experience, Venturelli’s bold career moves are already taking her from ocean depths to mountaintops and everywhere that geology exists in between.

Having recently returned from a second stint mapping geologic structures in South Africa, Venturelli recounted her most recent six-week teaching assistantship at the University of Capetown, as well as her field experiences in South Africa as an undergraduate, from her new apartment near Indiana State University (ISU) in Terre Haute, Ind. where she is pursuing a master’s degree in oceanography.

Two years ago, Venturelli’s first international undergraduate field camp experience taught her to use mapping software to plot coastal landscapes and structural deformation of the Western Cape of South Africa.

“It’s crazy how much you learn when you are in the field doing things rather than learning them from a book or from one of your professor’s lectures,” she said.

After returning to IU Northwest, Venturelli kept in touch with the program’s coordinator who soon invited her back. This time, she took on the role of teaching assistant and helped others to learn the mapping technique. Ultimately, Venturelli and her students were working to develop a map, not for the common hiker, but rather, a scientific map that geologists would use.

“No matter where you go in your ‘geologic journey,’” she explained, “mapping is one of those things you use no matter what. We would use GPS units to mark where we found those rocks and later plot them on a map in our GIS software. The area that we were mapping had never been mapped on the scale that we were using. That was really interesting because I had never gone somewhere that hadn’t had a geologic map that was telling me what I was looking at. We had to make snap judgments about what we were seeing.”

From rocks to water

Something else that Venturelli learned while in South Africa during her first experience was the severity of the world water crisis. Living in Africa and hearing folks talk about this issue opened her eyes to something she hadn’t been aware of living so close to the Great Lakes.

Venturelli decided to take action upon returning to IU Northwest. She quickly breathed life into the IU Northwest Geology Club and with a classmate, Courtney Targos, founded the “Walk for Water,” a now annual event organized by the club in order to draw attention to the world water crisis.

The students raised awareness of the crisis by simulating the plight of many in countries with scarce water. They walked from a park to Lake Michigan, filled their jugs with water and carried them back to the park. In Africa, people on average have to walk one kilometer to reach a clean water source.

In 2012, the event’s inaugural year, the students raised $2,500 to repair a well in Sierra Leone. This year, they raised $5,000 which was donated to build a well in Kenya.

Venturelli’s geology education and experiences also had her traveling to national conferences to present two research papers, one a geomorphology project on the coastal dunes of southern Lake Michigan, and the other on heavy mineral beach deposits.

In summary, Venturelli soaked up every bit of opportunity and knowledge she could while at IU Northwest and ended up creating one amazing geology education.

“(The faculty) helped me so much. They were always available,” Venturelli said. “They provide you with great advice, ideas, research opportunities, internships and more that you might not get at another school.”

Venturelli has no plans of slowing down her education. Once she completes her master’s degree at ISU, expected in 2015, she plans to head straight towards a Ph.D. -- all before she is 30 years old.

“If anybody at IU Northwest were to learn anything from me, it would be to embrace your experience there and really take what the professors have and what the (university) is giving you. There is so much to take from IU Northwest and the professors there. I think I am a good example of that.”

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