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Christina Reed
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Fellows take earth science to the Hill
Ian Campbell winner: Frank Rhodes
Heroy winner: Bob Ridky

Fellows take earth science to the Hill

Congressional science fellows are once again storming the steps of Capitol Hill. This fall, four geoscientists joined more than two dozen other scientists and engineers as part of a trial-by-fire course in public policy organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to orient the new fellows. Sponsored by scientific societies, the fellows will work for a year as staffers for congressional representatives or committee offices.

American Geological Institute (AGI) fellow Larry Kennedy is a staffer for his home-state senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Kennedy comes to the legislative branch with 20 years of experience working as a mineral explorer for the mining industry. While he has traveled across North and Central America for his job, meeting fascinating people and seeing fantastic geology, Kennedy never saw any of his projects come to fruition. “The science was sound, but there is a lot of opposition locally and nationally to mines getting built.” The main reason for that he says is the legacy of the pre-1970 mining industry. Modern technology has improved mining methods, Kennedy says, and he suspects much of the mining industry’s past is what influences public policy decisions today. “The demands that we as a society make on resource development are immense, but how do we balance the need forresources, including managing water resources, with our need to conserve and protect our natural landscape and restoration projects?” Kennedy hopes that the variety of issues he will face as a fellow in Reid’s office will help him answer that question.

Congressional fellows above from left to right are Raphael “Rafe” Sagarin, Larry Kennedy and Illa Amerson. Photo by Christina Reed.

Illa Amerson is working this year as the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fellow for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Amerson chose Conrad’s office because the senator is working on water quality and environmental issues in North Dakota. Specifically, Amerson is interested in the technical and political issues surrounding Devils Lake, a closed basin in the northeastern part of the state. Amerson, 32, has a doctorate in environmental science and engineering from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, a master’s in civil and environmental engineering from Arizona State University in Tempe, and bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “With chemical engineering you have the process, design and historical record of how a project was built and what things to look at to optimize it, but we don’t have blueprints for the environment,” she says. “We learn as much as we can whether we’re studying ocean currents, air pollution or groundwater for example, and then try to engineer things to clean up or protect but we never get a complete understanding of the system. We have to do the best we can with the methods we have available to us.”

Raphael “Rafe” Sagarin acquired a taste for politics after interning for the Wilderness Society in Washington, but he wanted a better understanding of the issues for which he was lobbying. He went back to school and earned a doctorate in marine ecology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. At 31, Sagarin is again in the political arena, this time as a Geological Society of America/U.S. Geological Survey fellow working for Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.). He summarizes the different attitudes he’s experienced, explaining that lobbyists “convince others that you’re right no matter what, rather than asking [as scientists do]: Am I right and what are the potential holes in my argument?” To find balance, Sagarin says he hopes to advise his boss of the best actions to take based on the best science available.

Lee Van Wychen stands next a combine on his family’s farm. Photo courtesy of Lee Van Wychen.


The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America are sponsoring Lee Van Wychen, who will begin his fellowship in January. “I wouldn’t have minded starting earlier, but it was suggested I wait until after the elections and the helter-skelter with the pending appropriations bills,” he says. Having recently earned his doctorate in land resources and environmental science from Montana State University, Van Wychen took November and December to travel around the world, as a graduation and 30th birthday present to himself. Before his trip, he spent time on his father’s farm in Freedom, Wisc., where he grew up. “In fourth grade I told my teacher I wanted to be the Secretary of Agriculture. That’s still a goal of mine,” he says. The congressional fellowship he says is “a perfect fit to get my feet wet and see how the system works. I’m looking forward to January.”

To apply for next year’s fellowships visit: AAAS Fellowship Web site or AGI's Government Affairs Program site.

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Ian Campbell winner: Frank Rhodes

The American Geological Institute presented its most prestigious award, the Ian Campbell Medal, to geologist Frank H.T. Rhodes on Oct. 28, during an award ceremony in Denver. Rhodes is president emeritus of Cornell University, and a world-renowned geoscientist and advocate for education and research.

Rhodes describes falling in love with geology as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham in England. “As a student in chemical engineering, I was required to take one course out of a dozen in geology to know where petroleum came from, and that hooked me for life,” he says. “Geology is the best liberal education in the world; it really is.”

Studying under the guidance of Harry Whittington, known as the “Dean of Trilobites,” Rhodes continued at Birmingham to earn his bachelor’s degree in petroleum geology, and both a Ph.D. in geology and a doctorate of science in geology and public research. The University of Birmingham later provided Rhodes with an honorary doctorate of laws degree, one of more than 30 honorary degrees he has earned around the world.

AGI Award winner, Frank H.T. Rhodes, photo courtesy of Cornell University.

A former Fulbright scholar and Fulbright distinguished fellow, Rhodes says his willingness to take on administrative duties led to his becoming dean of the faculty of science at the University of Wales for 12 years. Prior to his position at Cornell, Rhodes was vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan and dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. “I still regard myself as a geologist, just on leave doing these other assignments,” he says.

During his 18-year tenure as the ninth president of Cornell, research funding at the university tripled; new programs in supercomputing, biotechnology and other studies were initiated; and the number of women and minorities on the faculty doubled. He continues at Cornell as president emeritus and as a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He also advises colleges and universities on academic management and program analysis.

“The biggest single problem facing institutions today is not having a clearly defined aim and goal, no sense of the institution’s own mission. And if you don’t have that right, nothing else works,” Rhodes says. “Knowing what the niche is and filling it effectively is a great call for institutions, and that’s where leadership becomes so important,” Rhodes says. “The freedom of the individual to find a way around a problem and create a solution, that’s the wonderful thing about the States. If there are financial difficulties, you overcome them. You don’t hang around for the state or government, you raise the funds. Whatever the challenge you face, there is a way to solve it and succeed.”

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Heroy winner: Bob Ridky

Deciding what to teach students is a daunting challenge our technology-based society faces, says Bob Ridky. Winner of the American Geological Institute’s (AGI) 2002 William B. Heroy Jr. Award for Distinguished Service, Ridky was recently appointed National Education Coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. The Heroy Award is presented annually to a geoscientist in recognition of outstanding service to AGI and to the geoscience profession.

Teachers are not the only ones concerned about what to teach, Ridky says. “Even in the sub-disciplines such as mineralogy or geomorphology, you put a group of scientists together and I bet they would have a bear of a time listing the fundamental understandings that are important, to say nothing of the style and the means of transferring that information.”

AGI Award winner Bob Ridky, photo courtesy of USGS.

Ridky has worked as both a researcher and educator and plans on uniting both roles at USGS. Prior to this position, he taught geology for more than 20 years as a professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he was also senior assistant to the Chancellor and an American Council of Education Fellow. In the 1990s, Ridky played a major role in conducting the Joint Education Initiative, which sprung from USGS in cooperation with NASA and NOAA. The initiative provided hundreds of teachers and, in turn, thousands of students, with real datasets.

While there are many components to Ridky’s vision of USGS’s role in education, “at the core is the involvement of research scientists,” he says. “When projects come forward for review, we need to make certain we have an education component in all that we do. I’ll be helping colleagues with ideas for the types of initiatives they might think about doing.” One example he suggests as a model is AGI’s EarthInquiry program, which Ridky helped develop. The program compliments introductory physical and environmental geology courses by allowing students to explore and work with real-time and archived USGS data. This interactive, case-study approach helps students develop a deeper understanding of fundamental concepts in the geosciences. “One’s role as a member of the USGS is to think about the wider implications of research and what is involved in bringing that message to the citizenry.”

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