Students at Southern Utah University often have a front row seat to some of the greatest experiential learning available. Mackenzie Cope, a geology major and senior from West Valley City, Utah, had the opportunity to experience this first hand.
The Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, the official partner of Bryce Canyon National Park, asked Cope to create a database with interactive maps describing the geologic complexities and unique aspects of the national treasure.
Cope needed to conduct extensive research into Bryce Canyon’s paleontology, structural formations, stratigraphy, geologic history and hiking trails in the park.
“I had to identify rock types, take measurements of fractures and formations and make detailed descriptions of all the geologic layers,” said Cope. “I also had to do a literature review of research on the park to support my findings.”
One of the challenges she faced was taking the complex concepts and complicated vocabulary of geology and making them easily understandable. In order to ensure that the average visitor would be able to comprehend the information she recruited her project partner, Becky Lorig.
“She was in charge of the map making and wasn't as familiar with geologic terms so she was a good test subject,” said Cope. “I also had the opportunity to learn more about Geographic Information System mapping as I helped my partner with the finishing touches on the project.”
For Cope, this project helped her connect two of her passions.
“This project was meaningful to me because I like sharing my love for geology with others,” said Cope. “There is so much to learn about geology and it's so fascinating to understand how the earth works. I think many people would like to learn more about it but it can be hard to completely understand the Earth’s functions. It's important to me to make the information simpler so it can be shared with everyone.”
Cope submitted her work to the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association and it is under review to be put on the Bryce Canyon National Park website. She also presented this project at the national conference of the Geological Society of America in Denver, CO.
“SUU has provided me with many opportunities through the Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative and through the field work opportunities with the geology program here,” said Cope. “The geology program has provided countless opportunities through internships, field trips, research projects, and class labs that have helped me gain so many professional skills that will help me in my career in the future.”
Cope said her geology professors have been an integral part of her success at SUU.
“Dr. Johnny MacLean, Dr. Jason Kaiser, and Dr. Grant Shimer have encouraged me and provided countless opportunities for me to learn and grow as a student, a professional, and as a person. Their purpose in teaching is solely to help students succeed and pass their passion for sciences on to the next generation. They truly care about our education and want to help every student understand the subjects. The best part of my experience here at SUU has been the influence of my professors and peers.”
“Mackenzie is the kind of student all faculty members enjoy knowing,” said MacLean. “She has an enthusiasm for learning that is contagious. She works hard to develop as a student and a person, and she has fun all along the way. The most noticeable aspect of her approach to geology classes and field trips has been her ability to transfer the lessons she learns to the rest of her life.”
Cope says she loves geology so much that she has a hard time deciding what she should do after she graduates but hopes that her future career will allow her to conduct research in the outdoors.To learn more about SUU’s geology program, click here.