The Keck research experience displays the acknowledged characteristics of a high quality undergraduate research experiences; students are involved in original research, are stakeholders and retain intellectual ownership of their research, experience the intellectual excitement of working in group and independent contexts, and engage in the scientific process from conception to completion. The Consortium positions the student/mentor relationship in a collaborative setting with faculty and students from different colleges and universities. For the research teams, the collaborative approach enlarges the scope and significance of what can be addressed scientifically. Participating students and faculty work on themes of research that would not or could not be attempted through traditional mentor/student specialty-anchored research. For students, working with different faculty gives them insight into the collaboration process at a professional level and experience with different teaching and mentoring styles. Faculty too benefit from interaction, expanding their knowledge of different research areas, learning new research techniques, and also learning different mentoring styles and educational approaches.
Many Keck projects involve collaboration beyond the organizations represented by the project faculty. For example, on the 2001 Wet Mountains project, geologists from the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Colorado State University, and Kansas State University participated in field trips, presented evening seminars and contributed advice on field studies and expertise in Cenozoic landscape evolution. The 2001 Prairie Creek Project occurred at the Nerstrand Bigwoods State Park in Minnesota. Staff from the State Park and personnel from the Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District, Rice County NRCS office, and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership helped students in the field and shared expertise on local environmental and political issues. All of these experiences expand student's learning options.
Keck projects are characterized by respectful learning climates that nurture the development of collegial relationships among students and faculty. Faculty work hard to develop friendly climates, and are assisted in this endeavor by the Consortium administration. Project Director, Project Faculty, and Student notebooks are sent to participants well in advance of the summer field season. These contain Consortium policies, making participants aware of expectations for behavior during projects. Additionally, the Consortium provides faculty with guidelines for discussing climate issues with participants on the day the project begins in order to re-emphasize our expectations.
The Keck Geology Consortium Program
The full Consortium program has included four to eight research projects per year. Most projects are designed for six to twelve students and 2 to 4 faculty. Students make a yearlong commitment to the program, and the nature of their experience varies markedly through the year.
Part 1: Prior to the Summer Research
In the spring before the field season, project directors lead the students through the background study needed for a basic understanding of the project and geology of the study area.
Part 2: Summer Research Activity
In the field phase, students spend four-weeks at the study site, learning the geology in more detail, identifying a project, and gathering data.
Fieldwork varies with project (see the current project descriptions), but includes activities such as mapping, coring, surveying geomorphologic features, measuring stratigraphic sections, and sampling for later chemical or petrographic analyses. During the field season, the impetus of work transfers from the project faculty as students take responsibility for developing a research plan and collecting the data and samples needed to complete their work.
Part 3: Independent Research at Home Institution
Following the field phase, students return to their home campus and work under the guidance of an on-campus faculty sponsor. During this time, work is more independent in nature as students work to finalize data collection and analysis (e.g., sample preparation for petrographic and chemical analyses, distillation of survey data, textural analysis) and interpret their results. Frequent communication among participants is encouraged so that the collaborative aspect of the overall research project is maintained. Past experience shows that students have a better research experience in the independent-study phase when the on-campus sponsor travels to the field site. Site visits are especially critical for sponsors new to the program and funds are available to support this travel.
The independent-study phase culminates with a presentation of results at the Keck Research Symposium in Geology the following spring. The Consortium also requires the students to complete an independent study or senior thesis based on their Consortium project.
Part 4: Keck Research Symposium in Geology
The symposium is a gathering place for some of the most talented and motivated undergraduate students in the nation. The event gives students an opportunity to present research results in a professional and supportive environment. While at the symposium, the students interact with those from different projects, allowing exchange of ideas and approaches to problem solving as well as expanding their network of peer and faculty mentors.
Part 5: Publications
Students are required to submit four-page extended abstracts for publication in the symposium volume. At the symposium, students present their work in poster presentations and short talks. The Consortium supports students in these endeavors, providing guidelines related to production of graphics as well as an abstract template to assist text formatting. Students have the opportunity to submit abstracts for review prior to deadlines, receiving feedback from Consortium administration on graphics design and production, abstract organization, and writing in standard geoscience style.