From The Himalayas To ExxonMobil, This Aggie Geology Grad Is Ready For Anything

Dec 13, 2017

Standing at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains is a moment Melanie Bowen will never forget.

“As a geology student, getting to see the lower Himalayas was just a dream — so breath-taking and beautiful and geologically complex,” said Bowen, a graduating senior in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, in the College of Geosciences, at Texas A&M University.

How did Bowen wind up traveling with a group of scientists to India? Undergraduate research was the ticket.

Conducting research as an undergraduate research assistant in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) had afforded Bowen the opportunity to travel to India with her supervisor, Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek, IODP expedition project manager and staff scientist. They attended IODP’s July 2017 post-cruise meeting for Expedition 355, which had sailed in 2015. Bowen was studying Indian Ocean floor sediment cores that were collected during that research cruise.

Melanie Bowen standing at an outcrop of the Himalayas, taking field notes.Melanie Bowen at an outcrop in the Himalayas. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek.)

“At IODP, it was my job to do the processing of a lot of the data from Expedition 355 in the Indian Ocean’s Laxmi Basin,” she said. “I studied variations in calcium carbonate and other geochemical proxies over time, trying to relate that to carbonate burial, production or dilution — and at a larger scale, trying to relate those variations to the uplift and erosion of the Himalaya Mountains and changes to the summer monsoon.”

Her research has implications for better understanding monsoons, which are a major annual threat to public safety in India.

“We obtain that elemental data through a method called x-ray florescence, which involves using instruments that shoot x-rays at sediment core samples, which then emit characteristic wave-lengths that can be analyzed and identified as calcium or other elements,” she said. “This research could help us better understand monsoon and how it could change and evolve in the future based on what we've seen in the past.”

Bowen started conducting research at IODP when she was just a sophomore, and she advises that fellow undergraduates take that leap as well.

“Try to do undergraduate research, because it opens so many doors,” she said.

“And, find something that you love, whether that be one individual class that you can specialize in or run with, or a research area. If I wasn’t passionate about what I was reading or researching, I wouldn’t be motivated to work as hard. Try your best because it really does pay off in the end.”

Melanie Bowen and Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek in New Dehli. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek.)Melanie Bowen and Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek in New Dehli. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Denise K. Kulhanek.)

But her passion for geological exploration wasn’t always at the front of Bowen’s mind. When she began at Texas A&M as a freshman, she was studying petroleum engineering. After taking one geology course, she soon realized that the aspect of petroleum that she was most interested in was geology. Bowen said that “after reassessing my skills and passions,” transferring to the Department of Geology and Geophysics was a perfect fit.

“The department is highly acclaimed and has phenomenal programs,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate to receive several scholarships from the College and Department, thanks to our generous donors.”

Bowen received the Murry D. Page Endowed Scholarship from the College of Geosciences and the George W. Crocker II scholarship from the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

After graduating from Texas A&M in December with her B.S. in geology and as the top-ranked geology student among December graduates, Bowen began a paid internship at ExxonMobil this January. After a paid summer internship with SM Energy, she is planning to pursue graduate school later in 2018, she said.

Bowen overlooking Palo Duro Canyon during AAPG Student Chapter Field Trip, March 2017. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Bowen.)Bowen overlooking Palo Duro Canyon during AAPG Student Chapter Field Trip, March 2017. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Bowen.)

But first, Bowen is culminating her undergraduate research experience by presenting a research poster on her work at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest gathering of space and earth scientists in the world, in New Orleans in January.

As she looked ahead to her career moving forward, Bowen said what she’ll miss the most about Aggieland is the people.

“I’ll miss the sense of community that I’ve grown to become a part of here in G&G,” she said. “My peers and our professors who have given me such fantastic advice over the years – I will miss them. I’ll miss them a lot.”

By Leslie Lee

Media contact: Leslie Lee, Communications Coordinator, College of Geosciences, (979) 845-0910,