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IU Northwest geosciences undergrads rival nation’s best


Students secure campus chapter in prestigious honor society and win undergraduate research poster award at national conference

Monday Nov 27, 2017


At the recent annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Seattle, Indiana University Northwest student Cesar Garcia discussed his research about microplastics in beach sediment along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, a topic that drew a line of folks who waited their turn to inquire about his poster presentation.

Garcia is a veteran of the national conference, which draws more than 7,000 attendees. This is his third time at the biggest meeting of geosciences minds in the country. And what’s more, as he went through his methods and hypotheses for his research, and his new colleagues got to know him better, some were taken aback when he confessed he was only an undergraduate.

The folks in the tight-knit geosciences department at IU Northwest hear this so much it is almost cliché. The truth is, high caliber experiences like these are as typical at IU Northwest as they are exceptional.

Geosciences earns honor society chapter

Largely because of experiences like these, IU Northwest students who recently took on the task of applying to a prestigious national honor society for the earth sciences, Sigma Gamma Epsilon (SGE), were successful in establishing the Theta Omicron Chapter at IU Northwest.

The effort was undertaken by Garcia, as well as Eric Torness and Katie “Denver” Gurnicz. Gurnicz said the application process was rigorous, involving submitting personal letters of intent, transcripts, and other documentation. The process included a personal visit from the national vice president of the Central Province, Diane Burns from Eastern Illinois University, who investigated the potential the department had for maintaining a chapter.

Gurnicz, who now serves as the IU Northwest chapter president, said that membership in SGE will bring more resources and opportunities to students.

As one example, with the establishment of the honor society chapter came the privilege to participate in the GSA’s Sigma Gamma Epsilon division for undergraduate research – a subset of the national conference.

Gurnicz won the top honor for her research poster in the SGE undergraduate session in which she was competing against roughly 60 presenters. Gurnicz and her advisor, Professor of Geosciences Erin Argyilan, analyzed the potential regional sources of atmospheric magnesium and calcium suspected to contribute to the formation of decomposition chimneys at Mount Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The geoscientists had called on the advanced chemistry expertise of Daniel Kelly, assistant professor of chemistry, to create a truly interdisciplinary project. Thanks to Kelly’s knowledge of ion chromatography, the collaborators were able to analyze rainwater samples they collected and compared their samples to national datasets.

Argyilan was thrilled by the recognition of their work. “Our students are on the front lines of emerging issues in geosciences in Northwest Indiana, and they are learning the skills and methods for conducting original scientific research,” said Argyilan.

Professor of Geosciences Zoran Kilibarda affirmed the Department of Geosciences has been investing in giving our students opportunities that are comparable to that of most graduate schools. Grooming students to present at national conferences, and coaching them to create their own methodologies for collecting data, are typical elements of an IU Northwest geosciences education.

Denver Gurnicz and Cesar Garcia

Photo provided

Katie "Denver" Gurnicz and Cesar Garcia presented posters at the national conference.

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