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151 High Schoolers Experienced The Geosciences For Free This Summer, Thanks To Virtual GeoX

The 10th anniversary edition of GeoX was led by Judy Nuñez and made possible by faculty presenters and Texas A&M student volunteers.

Jul 14, 2020

GeoX campers and counselors from the 2020 GeoX program
GeoX campers and counselors from the 2020 GeoX program

For the past 10 summers, the Texas A&M College of Geosciences has hosted high school students from across the country on the Texas A&M campus, providing them with an in-depth look into the geosciences as part of the Geosciences Exploration Summer Program, or GeoX.

GeoX is a summer program designed for high school students interested in science and the world around them. Students are given the unique opportunity to interact with faculty experts from the college, and get a foundational understanding of the variety of ways someone can make a difference with a degree in those fields.

Judy Nuñez, the director of recruitment for the College of Geosciences, leads the team that coordinates GeoX each summer. With concerns of health and safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they took the program online and accepted a record 151 students for the two-week event.

Even though there was no minimum amount of required work for campers during GeoX, the majority of them joined in every morning and stayed through the entire day’s interactive presentations.

“The interesting part about having an online GeoX was that the campers could define their own success with the virtual camp,” Nuñez said. “You could see they wanted to be engaged by asking questions and commenting on what they already knew about topics. They really connected with the information they were learning, and it kept bringing them back each day.”

When initially creating the schedule for the virtual GeoX, it became clear that an online format could open up even more opportunities for the students attending, she said. With location no longer being a factor, faculty, current students, former students, advisory council members, and many others jumped at the opportunity to present.

One of the first GeoX sessions, hosted by Dr. Nick Perez, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, took the campers on a virtual tour of his research experiences in Peru. Perez spoke about the formation of volcanoes, techniques researchers use to study those volcanoes, and how that data is used to make decisions about the past and the future.

“I wanted to share why I have enjoyed being a geoscientist,” Perez said. “I also wanted students to know that studying geoscience will allow them to find their passion, which can be any mixture of disciplines. Hydrology and water policy. Human rights and mining. Earth history and earth’s future with climate change. These and so much more are where we need students to focus. My hope was to instill a level of curiosity and wide ranging interest so that students will realize that the Geosciences is the place for them.”

Dr. Chrissy Wiederwohl, instructional associate professor in the Department of Oceanography, has served as a faculty presenter to GeoX for several years and shared her expertise with students again this year.

“I look forward to participating in GeoX every summer because of the campers and counselors,” she said . “The campers' level of engagement is through the roof every single year, and this year was no different, even using an online platform. I hope my participation does two things: promote awareness and understanding about oceanographic issues, and give campers a glimpse of what being an oceanographer entails.”

GeoX campers participating in a virtual Yell Practice with the Aggie Yell Leaders
GeoX campers participating in a virtual Yell Practice with the Aggie Yell Leaders

More than 25 faculty members, representing all four departments in the College of Geosciences, presented on a vast array of topics from their fields of research. Through these presentations, campers travelled virtually from the Arctic to the Antarctic, down into the trenches of the Pacific, even to learning about rovers on Mars. They had the opportunity to virtually launch a weather balloon, talk to a paleontologist, and do several hands-on activities right from their homes.

GeoX also gave the campers an opportunity to hear from Doc Hendley, the founder of Wine to Water, a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to provide clean water to people around the world. After learning about water insecurity from Dr. Wendy Jepson earlier in GeoX, the campers were able to hear first-hand from Hendley about the effects water insecurity can have on a community. He challenged each camper to focus on finding something they are passionate about and use their tools, talents, and education to make a difference in the world.

While in-person field trips were unavailable this year, that didn’t stop campers from taking two virtual tours of facilities. Early during the second week, campers were taken on a virtual tour of BP’s Houston Headquarters and learn about the ways careers in the geosciences are making a difference in the world. The final day of GeoX was spent at the Texas A&M Soltis Center for Research and Education in Costa Rica. This experience included a tour and an activity the campers could participate in from their homes. This was the first time GeoX was able to offer a live international tour of a facility.

To wrap up the last day, the campers got to have one more glimpse into life as an Aggie Geoscientist. With all the campers donning their maroon GeoX shirts, the Aggie Yell Leaders led everyone in a virtual Fightin’ Texas Aggie Yell Practice.

Marking the completion of the 10th GeoX program, Nuñez is proud that the virtual experience was deemed a great success and plans to explore holding both a residential and a virtual camp next year.

And though GeoX could evolve in the years to come, its mission of educating future leaders on the importance of the geosciences will remain.

By Stephanie Taylor ’10

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