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Geology celebrates half a century

  • At the Falls
    At the Falls  Geology department Founding Father Bruce Goodwin (center) leads a departmental field trip to Belle Island at the Falls of the James in Richmond. Geology alumni will make a field trip to the Belle Island as part of their celebration of the department's 50th anniversary.   Courtesy of W&M Department of Geology
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William & Mary’s Department of Geology is celebrating its 50th birthday—not even a tick of the clock in terms of the age of the earth.

A birthday party is set for the first weekend of November. The high point of the celebration will be a Saturday field trip to Belle Island, at the Falls of the James River in Richmond. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts, Department Chair Chuck Bailey explained.

“The idea is to honor Bruce Goodwin,” Bailey said. “He passed in 2008 and just about every William & Mary geology student who took a structural geology class or a historical geology class spent some time at Belle Island on these exposures.”

Goodwin is one of the so-called Founding Fathers of William & Mary’s geology department, Bailey said, along with Kenneth Bick, Stephen Clement and Gerald Johnson.

Just about an hour from campus, Belle Island offers a lot of geology in one handy spot, making it a favorite field trip for William & Mary geologists over the last half-century.

“We have this opportunity there to see acres and acres of bedrock,” Bailey said. “You can learn about the crystallization of granite—petrology. You can look at fractures and rocks that have been folded and flowed—structural geology. You can look at the dynamic processes in the river, the formation of potholes and erosion. Also being in the riverine environment, there’s a sedimentary side that’s available.”

In addition to the field trip, there will be poster session and social hour on Friday and a Saturday evening banquet at Miller Hall, which will include a “roast” of William & Mary’s geological celebrities.

 Bailey expects around 70 geology alumni to show up for the weekend celebration. “We have around 750 living alumni,” Bailey said,“so we’re expecting a 10 percent turnout.”

The number of expected attendees includes the department chair: Bailey, a 1989 graduate, is one of the department’s alumni.

“I was lucky enough to be here when the Founding Fathers were at the height of their powers,” he said. All the Founding Fathers were active and productive researchers during times in which research was not especially emphasized throughout the College. Bailey said that from the days of the Founding Fathers on, geology faculty have maintained a departmental reputation for approachability and openness, a quality that produced a “strong community feel” in the department.

Bailey noted that the department has grown in both number of majors and number of faculty over the years. Today’s geology department also maintains an ambitious mentored research component, one that provides each geology major with a research project before graduation. It’s an important fulfilling of a department tradition, he noted.

“I was two weeks into my introductory geology lab and Jerre Johnson recruited me to work on stuff he was doing,” Bailey recalled. “Initially it was looking at sand and mud from borings in Florida. I did not pursue that kind of science, but right away he saw some sort of spark and he was able to direct me into research. I think if you look down the hall and see Rowan (Lockwood) or Brent (Owens) advising freshmen, you’ll see that the faculty are still detecting those sparks. That aspect is exactly the same.”