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Mentoring propels success
Minority scholars announced

Mentoring propels success

Last summer, President Bush honored Antarctic researcher Philip J. Bart of Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge with the nation’s highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. Bart was the only geologist of the 60 people given the 2001 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and he considers the recognition “the highlight of my academic career so far.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) nominated 20 of the scientists and engineers who received the award, including Bart, from a pool of junior faculty members who obtained grants from NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development program. The program funds scientists whose proposals emphasize education and integration of teaching with their research.

From left to right: Juan Chow (master's student), Phil Bart, Bronis Mateoyer (undergraduate), David Egan (master's student) and Pres Viator (undergraduate) aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer with Marguerite Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo by Julia Smith-Wellner.

Bart, an assistant professor at LSU and a member of the National Association for Black Geologists and Geophysicists (NABGG), knows firsthand the benefits of mentoring students and involving them in research. Growing up in southern Louisiana, he says, “I had no clue that I would end up a marine geologist in Antarctica.” Bart credits much of his academic success to his mentors.

When Bart was an undergraduate at the University of New Orleans, Louis Fernandez was the chairman of the department of earth sciences. Fernandez — now provost and vice president of academic affairs at California State University in San Bernardino — made a tremendous impact on Bart’s life. “More than 15 years ago, for me to see someone not the same ethnically but also not a mainstream American in this important position gave validation to the idea that excellence in academics was something minorities could pursue,” Bart says.

Fernandez encouraged Bart, already a couple of years into college, to apply his studies toward geology and geophysics. “It was a critical time, because I think in the absence of that experience I probably would have graduated, but I wouldn’t have distinguished myself in a way that would have allowed me to secure employment in the geosciences or be ready to enter graduate school if he hadn’t helped me change my attitude toward school,” Bart says. His efforts were rewarded upon graduation with a job working as a geophysicist for Amoco. During college, he also received a small scholarship from the American Geological Institute’s Minority Participation Program (AGI-MPP).

In 1989, after three years of working at Amoco, Bart began graduate school at Rice University, where John Anderson was teaching a depositional environments course that included studying seismic profiles he and his students had acquired. When Anderson invited Bart to participate in a cruise to Antarctica on the Norwegian research vessel Polar Duke, Bart jumped at the chance.

“What an experience!” Bart says of his first cruise with Anderson. Although he fought motion sickness for most of the six weeks out on the Ross Sea, having “the first gander at interpreting data no one has seen before” inspired Bart to pursue research investigating Antarctica’s ice sheet. “While the three years in industry were full of good times and friends at Amoco, I could see that this was a completely different way of doing geology. It involved data acquisition and project design and this was a much better fit for me, as opposed to having data and projects arrive nicely on my desk.”

With his graduate student Juan Chow, Bart recently submitted a journal article indicating the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may have evolved independently of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet during the mid-Miocene, about 15 million years ago. Such a hypothesis contradicts the current belief that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet expanded over the Transantarctic Mountains onto the western, low-lying part of the continent. “Understanding and constraining the fluctuation in the size of the Antarctic ice sheets is an important problem that relates to sea level and has global implications,” says Scott Borg, program manager for the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program within the Office of Polar Programs at NSF.

Today Bart encourages undergraduates and graduate students to join him on cruises to the icy south. Bart funds some of his students’ participation through a grant from NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. He is also working to attract high school students into geology and collaborating with geologist Ray Ferrell, who is spearheading a proposal to attract minority undergraduates from other universities with majors in physics and chemistry into a geoscience graduate program at LSU. “Everyone knows about biological science as an opportunity, and in fact minority participation in biology and also chemistry is healthier than in the geosciences,” Bart says. “The geoscience community hasn’t done as well as it could to spread the word to high school students about the many good careers that could be pursued in the petroleum industry, state and federal agencies, academia, etc. NABGG and AGI do help to increase the number of minorities within the geoscience profession through scholarship programs, but I think we as a whole have to try to do a better job to get the message out.”

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Minority Scholars Announced

Jason Holloman, now in his first year in graduate school at Lousiana State University, plans to accompany Philip Bart on a cruise to Antarctica in February. Holloman has been a scholar in the American Geological Institute Minority Participation Program (AGI-MPP) since his freshman year at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and is also a scholar of the National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists. He is excited to experience the freezing temperatures of an Antarctic summer. “I’m from Texas and I’ve never been in a cold climate before,” he says. As an AGI-MPP scholar, Holloman kept in touch with his mentor, Elijah White Jr. of ExxonMobil. “He made my undergraduate experience more efficient,” Holloman says. “He would give me a push during finals, call or e-mail me to see how things were going and basically gave me good advice on what to spend time on and what not to.” Holloman is also happy to pass along his professors’ advice: “First get the big picture. The big picture is very important, only then can you look at smaller things. You don’t look at the smaller things first and expect to understand the whole problem.” When he graduates he hopes to land a job working as a professional geologist for a company.

Keena Kareem is also a graduate student at LSU and an AGI-MPP scholar for three years running. She has taken her research to warmer climes, working with Gary Byerly at LSU to investigate the chemistry and temperature of Earth’s early mantle using komatiite minerals found in South Africa. Kareem presented her work as a poster presentation last month at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver. The top graduating senior in geology from Tulane University in 1999, Kareem says her professors Franco Marcantonio and Steve Nealson inspired her to become a geologist. “I’ve always been amazed and fascinated with the universe and planets,” she says. “I took earth science in junior high and enjoyed it, but after eighth grade I had no dealings with geology until Tulane. It’s a shame I didn’t have any geology classes in high school. I would have appreciated it even more.”

Keena Kareem at Lousiana State University. Photo courtesy of U.C. Berkeley Dept. of Earth and Planetary Science.

This is the 31st consecutive year AGI has awarded academic scholarships to minority undergraduate and graduate students in support of their pursuit of geoscience degrees. Undergraduate scholars for the 2002-2003 academic year are: Wesley Acosta (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Robert Monnar (University of Nevada, Reno), John Ricardo (Guilford College), Mariela Salas (University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez), Celina Suarez (Trinity University), Marina Suarez (Trinity University), Scott Williams (North Carolina State University), and Christy Wilmore (Texas A&M University).

Graduate student awardees include Annette Veilleux of the University of Texas at El Paso. Veilleux, a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), is working for AGI this semester as an AGI-AAPG Geoscience and Public Policy Intern. Other graduate scholars, most of whom began the program as undergraduates, are: Anthony Arguez (Florida State University), Daniel Cordalis (University of Colorado), Vionette DeChoudens-Sanchez (University of Iowa), Dawn James (California State University, Northridge), Lorna-Jaramillo Nieves (University of Colorado, Boulder), Alberto Lopez-Venegas (Northwestern University), Audeliz Matias (Northwestern University), Amanda Mosola (Rice University), Sergio Restrepo (University of Florida), Lizzette Rodriguez (Michigan Technological University), Holloman and Kareem.

AGI-MPP is made possible through support of the USX Foundation, ExxonMobil Corp., ChevronTexaco Corp. and the Seismological Society of America. For more information about MPP, e-mail the coordinator Cindy Martinez or visit the scholarship Web site.

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