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W&M geology dept to honor women geoscientists in two-day event

  • Women in the lab:
    Women in the lab:  Rowan Lockwood, professor of geology at William & Mary, has helped organize a two-day event to celebrate the department’s students and alumnae who identify as female.  Photo by Adrienne Berard
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In the run-up to this year’s Homecoming, William & Mary’s Department of Geology will be hosting a homecoming of their own to celebrate the department’s students and alumnae who identify as female.

The two-day event, starting Oct. 18, will feature a series of networking opportunities and talks by distinguished alumnae, such as Ellen Stofan ’83, who serves as the director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Throughout the 2018-2019 academic year, the university is recognizing the 100th anniversary of coeducation at William & Mary with a series of special programs.

“When the centennial celebration was announced, we immediately started talking as a department about how we could participate,” said Rowan Lockwood, professor of geology at William & Mary. “The idea of celebrating gender diversity has been in the back of our minds for quite a long time. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

The celebration will kick off Thursday with a two-hour symposium featuring alumnae speakers from various areas within geoscience. Stofan, the keynote speaker, will focus on the geology of other planets. Jessica Ball ’07 will discuss her experience documenting the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. Becky Flowers ’98 will share her research into the geology of the Grand Canyon. Nancy Lauer ’13 will discuss fracking waste and environmental justice. Seema Turner ’93 will address engineering geology in the private sector and Lynn Wingard ’79 will discuss the paleoecology of the Everglades.

“We wanted the symposium to tackle a wide range of subjects,” said Chuck Bailey, professor of geology and former department chair. “It’s not gonna be all rocks all the time.”

The organizers decided to include variety of formal and informal activities throughout the two-day event. Thursday’s speaker symposium will be followed by a public reception in McGlothlin-Street Hall. On Friday morning, the department will offer the community a chance to drop in and attend classes on a range of geology topics. Friday’s activities will also include a networking lunch at the Wren building and a reception in the Rock Garden.

“We hope it will be a great opportunity for everybody across campus to come learn about what’s going on in geoscience,” said Heather Macdonald, Chancellor Professor of Geology. “We invited alumnae who work in different arenas within geology and who represent five decades of geology at William & Mary.”

William & Mary’s Department of Geology was founded in 1961 by Ken Bick, who was joined by three other male professors in the 1960s, Bruce Goodwin, Stephen Clement and Gerald Johnson. While the founders were men, Lockwood said they were strong advocates for female geoscientists, sometimes bending campus rules to support women students.

“Some of our alums tell incredible stories about leaving their residence halls and house mothers would check to make sure they were wearing skirts that fell beneath mid-calf,” Lockwood said. “To ensure women could actually do the work on geology field trips, the founders of the department would drive to the nearest gas station so the women could change into jeans. They were making sure women could participate.”

Some of those alumnae will be honored in a photo exhibit that will remain on display for the academic year, Lockwood said. The William & Mary chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists has been busy conducting interviews and collecting alumnae portraits to hang throughout McGlothlin-Street Hall.

“In geology departments around the world, it’s very traditional to have a set of portraits of former faculty and often it’s all white men,” Lockwood said. “We want our department to be a super welcoming and inclusive environment, so these portraits will stay on the wall for the rest of the school year in honor of the centennial and serve as a chance for students to get to know some of our alumnae.”  

Caroline Abbott ’19, a founding member of William & Mary’s AWG chapter, met W&M alumna and former professor Lynn Wingard during a high school field trip. That interaction fueled her interest in geoscience that continues today.

“It seems simple, but the act of making sure I was included and supported made all the difference,” Abbott said. “Women can be undermined in what they’re passionate about, so if they show interest, it’s important to validate it and share your own experience with them.”  

The symposium begins at 3:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 18 in ISC Room 1221. It is free and open to the entire campus community. For the full schedule of events for Oct.18-19 click here. For those unable to attend, the department will be hosting a six-part public lecture series throughout the year as part of the centennial celebration.