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Most geologists would agree that a long raft ride past the cliff face of the Grand Canyon is an ideal way to learn stratigraphy, the study of how the earth’s layers formed. For 16 Lafayette students, three weeks hiking through various national parks in Utah and Arizona and rafting along the Colorado River brought their studies to life.

The hiking and rafting trip was part of the course Geology from A (Arches) to Z (Zion): the Geology of National Parks in the Western United States taught by Lawrence Malinconico, associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences, and Cliff Reiter, professor of mathematics.

“This hands-on course really enabled us to see the result of these geologic processes in action,” says mechanical engineering major and Marquis Scholar Tobias Heineck ’06 (Bellport, N.Y.). “The Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Arches National Parks are really wide open. There are lots of valleys, so it’s pretty plain to see all of the different layers of rock that formed going backward through time. It was very informative, and I couldn’t have thought of a better way and clearer example of what Dr. Malinconico was trying to get across.”

For Marquis Scholar Russell Dinardi ’07 (Pleasantville, N.Y.), an A.B. engineering major who hadn’t taken a geology class before, the trip was an exciting backdrop for learning the material.

“When we were whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon and looking up at millions of years of geology right in front of us, it was just an amazing experience,” he recalls.

Students began their three-week trek in Las Vegas and traveled through northern Utah, where they hiked through three national parks. They rafted down the Colorado River and eventually made their way back to their starting point for the return trip home.

“We hiked in the national parks almost every single day,” says Dinardi. “We went through each formation and the concepts were easy to grasp. We were given a lot of charts, and those helped us understand how everything comes together.”

The students did more than explore academic interests.

“I’m an ‘outdoorsy’ person, so the hiking and outdoors knowledge of the West that I got from the trip is valuable,” says Heineck. “The landscape is entirely different out there, and I anticipate going back in the future. It’s so dry, and you always have to take care to maintain the level of water in your body. Just learning to get along in that environment is something I will use later on.”

They also learned a great deal from their contact with cowboys, Native Americans, and fellow students on the excursion. Dinardi notes that he wouldn’t have encountered some students he now counts as friends if not for the three-week course. Both Dinardi and Heineck say that the trip is a highlight of their time at Lafayette and made them more well-rounded individuals.

“Everyone at Lafayette needs to take a laboratory science, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than to travel out west and see the stratigraphy laid out so plainly and to actually see what’s going on rather than just reading about it in a textbook,” Heineck says. “It will stick with me better this way.

“Personally, I think that part of a college education is learning maturity and about different cultures and values,” he continues. “There’s so much learning that goes on outside the classroom. Being out west is an entirely different culture, and part of the time was spent not just going over geology, but perusing the towns we were in and getting to know that culture and way of life. That was very valuable to me.”

Heineck is a member of the student chapter of American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Clarinet Choir, and Ultimate Frisbee Club. He also is a volunteer at Easton’s senior citizens center. He graduated from Bellport Senior High School.

Dinardi is a member of the Leonardo Society for A.B. engineering majors, Newman Association, Volleyball Club, and Kappa Delta Rho fraternity. He graduated from Iona Preparatory School.

Malinconico has conducted research in Pakistan, Italy, Central America, Hawaii, and the Cascades, receiving 29 grants totaling more than $1.3 million for research, curricular innovation, and facilities improvement. He helped pioneer a remote gas sampling approach for monitoring volcanoes, and in 2003, BBC television featured him in “Volcano Hell,” a documentary in its flagship science series, Horizon.

In the past seven years, Reiter has mentored over 30 students through various academic projects and sponsored hiking trips in the Adirondacks. In February, Nature magazine featured his work on the mathematical generation of snowflake patterns as the lead story on its web site. He also serves as adviser for Ultimate Frisbee Club.

Heineck and Dinardi paid none of the program costs for the course, including tuition, airfare, room, fees, and some meals, as a benefit of being a participant in Lafayette’s Marquis Scholars program. Selected from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational benefits, including mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and educational experiences and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

Categorized in: Academic News