Graduate students take top awards in GSA annual meeting

Nov. 8, 2017

KALAMAZOO, Mich.— A pair of Western Michigan University graduate students took top honors from the Geological Society of America during the organization’s annual meeting Oct. 22-25 in Seattle.

Peggy McNeal, a doctoral student with the University’s Mallinson Institute for Science Education, won the Iris Moreno Totten Geoscience Education Research Award, while Sarah VanderMeer, a doctoral student in the Department of Geosciences, won the Best Student Geologic Map Competition.

A number of additional geoscientists from WMU also presented during the event. They include: faculty members Drs. Alan Kehew, Heather Petcovic, Matt Reeves and Mohamed Sultan; and graduate students Ryan Cascarano, Hanna Cohen, Alex Koerber, Hannah Pankratz and Laura Tinigin.

Dr. Michelle Kominz, professor of geosciences, did not attend the annual meeting but was recently elected as a GSA fellow. Society fellowship is an honor bestowed on the best of the profession by election at the spring GSA council meeting.


Peggy McNeal stands with Dr. Heather Petcovic receiving her award

As the first recipient of the inaugural Totten Award, McNeal was recognized by the society for establishing “a precedent of high quality, innovative research for future and early career researchers to follow.”

The national award acknowledges excellent research emerging from geoscience education, geocognition, or related fields that investigates the ways in which people understand and interact with the Earth. It is intended for early career researchers, from the undergraduate to professional level, who present their work at the GSA annual meetings.

Peggy McNeal stands outside while mapping for geoscience

McNeal’s presentation, titled “Investigating the Motivations and Practices of Middle School Climate Change Educators,” examines teachers’ motivations for educating students about climate change using authentic and discovery driven instructional practices. It was funded by the Joseph P. Stoltman Endowed Scholarship through the WMU Department of Geography, and the results were published in the International Journal of Science Education. Petcovic, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Patricia Reeves, associate professor of educational leadership, and evaluation, measurement and research, served as co-authors.


Sarah Vandermeer shakes a hand while receiving her awardVanderMeer edged out 19 competitors from California Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Texas A&M University, Vanderbilt University and beyond to claim first place in the Best Student Geologic Map Competition.

As the top winner, she received a Brunton International Compass as well as the opportunity to have her map published for a limited run in the Journal of Maps and the Journal of Maps Student Edition.

Sarah Vandermeer stands in front of her detailed map of the surficial geology of Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreVanderMeer produced a detailed map of the surficial geology of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s upper peninsula. She mapped each quadrangle incorporating Pictured Rocks, for a total of 10, and spent three field seasons collecting data for the project. Part of her work included digging hundreds of small holes five feet deep and characterizing the sediment beneath the surface soil. She also conducted non-invasive geophysical techniques to estimate the thickness of the sediment composing various landforms. VanderMeer then spent a year integrating her field data with digital topographic information and satellite imagery of the region to produce her map.

Prior to VanderMeer’s project, Pictured Rocks was the only U.S. national park that lacked a detailed surficial geology map, a fundamental foundation to geoscience research.

About the GSA

GSA is an international professional society with a membership of more than 26,000 scholars in 115 countries. The society provides access to essential resources for the professional growth of earth scientists at all levels of expertise and from all sectors – academic, government, business and industry.

Every year, the society unites thousands of earth scientists from around the globe to study the mysteries of our planet and beyond, and to share their scientific findings. The GSA Annual Meeting invites members to present their latest research, build upon current knowledge and network with peers.

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