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STEMinist Profile: Anna Sutton Stinson, Project Geologist

Anna Sutton Stinson

Project Geologist

Stantec


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always had fairly broad interests as a child. My mother is an artist and my father is an English professor, but both of them had broad interests as well, including farming and horses to chemistry, woodworking, and music. I loved science fiction and cosmology always fascinated me, and in high school I wanted to major in planetary science. I ended up majoring in astronomy and minoring in geology, but after I discovered geology included camping trips to beautiful places, I switched my major to geology and stuck with it. Developing the skills to observe the natural world and be able to put together a story about how it came to be that way is very satisfying to me.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I now work in environmental consulting, investigating and re-mediating petroleum and hazardous materials spills. My company says I assist our clients to comply with governmental regulations and best business practices. My drillers say I put dirt in jars. I also sometimes put groundwater and air in jars. The jars are then sent to laboratories for analysis, we interpret what contaminants are where and how they are moving and changing, and then we plan how to best limit risks to human health and the environment.

The coolest project I have worked on was doing environmental investigations at a large oil refinery. Ninety years of spills, leaks, and explosions made for lots of soil and groundwater contamination to hunt down and fix. Working at the refinery required very specific health and safety training, an FBI background check, and you had to wear fire resistant coveralls and a hydrogen sulfide gas meter.

Hydrogen sulfide gas can kill quickly, so we were trained to drop everything and run cross-wind and then up-wind if the alarm ever went off. Luckily, I never had to put that into practice. The refinery was a fascinating place to work, it was like its own small city, and there were always lots of big machinery and vehicles rumbling around through the tank farms and flare stacks.

Role models and heroes:
Sally Ride, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Hildegard von Bingen, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because it is an opportunity to seek out unfamiliar situations and really challenge myself or push my limits.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to question and challenge gender stereotypes, even the tiniest ones. Often they are perpetuated simply because no one asks “why?” or “why not?”. Don’t let others define you, do what you enjoy and be yourself.

Favorite website or app:
http://rumsey.mapranksearch.com/ Check out some old maps!

Twitter: @annasutton

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jessica Ball, Ph.D. Student in Volcanology

Jessica Ball

Jessica Ball

Ph.D. student in Volcanology
University at Buffalo, SUNY

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I got interested in geology when I was quite small—I used to live close to Washington, DC and one of my favorite things to do was visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I went through a dinosaur phase and a rock phase like a lot of little kids do, but the difference with me was that I never outgrew them! I kept interested in it all through grade school, but it was in college that I really got hooked. I took a three-week geology field trip after my freshman year, and even though I struggled the whole time, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else for a career.

I really enjoy geology because it’s such a unique science. Not only do geologists get to spend time in the lab and the field, we get to incorporate pretty much every other branch of science you could think of, and a good chunk of engineering. In the course of my graduate career, I’ve needed to use chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, computer science, statistics, and a whole slew of other skills. Plus the field aspect can be really fun—I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit amazing and beautiful places while collecting data? I also think volcanoes are fascinating, so getting to study them is pretty much a dream come true for me.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
In terms of research, I haven’t had time to do a lot, but I think my thesis work in volcanology has been pretty cool. I study lava domes, which are constructions of silicic magma that erupt from a volcano and pile up over the vent. They also tend to collapse, and sometimes this happens because water has gotten into the dome and altered the rock, or gotten trapped in spaces where it gets heated and pressurized and destabilizes things. This is really important in terms of hazard assessment—if you know where the weak rock on a lava dome is, you can make some predictions about how it might collapse in the future.

My work is at a group of lava domes called Santiaguito, at the Santa Maria volcano in Guatemala. I’ve combined field mapping, rock and aqueous geochemistry, and satellite remote sensing to try and paint a comprehensive picture of the state of alteration in those domes, and we’ve found out some interesting things! The project itself was also exciting because I got the chance to go to Guatemala in the first place; it’s a beautiful country, and the people there are very welcoming. (It’s also full of volcanoes, which makes me happy as a volcanologist).

Role models/heroes:
There have been many people I could put into these categories, but there are a few that stand out for me. My entire undergraduate geology department at the College of William and Mary—particularly the professors—were a really great influence on me. They were demanding, but they genuinely loved their students and they were wonderful teachers. They were always pushing us to do better, try harder things, take chances. My undergrad advisor especially—he encouraged me to go on a field trip as a freshman that was tough even for the senior students, for example, and he never accepted less than my best effort in his classes. He was the one who made me realize what I needed to do to become a good geologist (which I hope I have!)

My current advisor at Buffalo is another person I aspire to be like. She’s a respected volcanologist and she knows a lot of people in our field, but she’s also really great at balancing her work and family life, and that’s something I appreciate as a woman. I also love that she guides her students but doesn’t discourage them from taking their work in new directions, even if she’s not familiar with them herself.

I guess the final two people that I’d name as heroes are my parents. They never, ever, not once, told me that I couldn’t do something. They put up with years of rock collections and countless museum visits and even (I kid you not) got me a seismograph for one birthday. They let me make my own decisions about what I wanted to do, and made it possible for me to go to the college I wanted, and have just been fantastic in so many ways. I owe them a lot.

Why do you love working in STEM?
The chance to discover new things about the world! As a volcanologist (and a geologist), I see myself as a kind of combination of detective and storyteller. Geologists get to think up really clever ways to find clues (data) about how the Earth works, but then we also get to turn those data into a fascinating story. I love when I can look at a rock or a landscape and find something to deduce about it—it’s like being able to see into the past.

Another thing I really like about working in STEM is that there’s always something new to learn about how to do your job. You can’t just learn a set of skills and then stop—you’re always needing to improve them, or adopt new and better techniques. Sometimes I’m just blown away by how cool the new techniques are, and that I get to use them!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t let anything—or anyone—discourage you from doing what you love! It’s the best thing in the world to enjoy your job. And make sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you and support what you’re doing, no matter how different it is from what they do. No one in my family is a geologist, and I’ll be the first to get a doctorate in science, but they’ve all encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

Favorite website or app:
The Global Volcanism Program website. Anything you want to know about an active volcano, they can tell you!

Twitter: @Tuff_Cookie
Website: my American Geophysical Union blog, Magma Cum Laude

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Stephanie Stockman, Education & Public Outreach Lead, NASA

Stephanie Stockman

Stephanie Stockman

Education and Public Outreach Lead
NASA Science Mission Directorate
(NASA HQ)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
From the time I was a small child I loved rocks. I have my first exposure to geology as a 4th grader and knew that I wanted to be a geologist. I changed my major in college from Mass Communication to Geology in my junior year of college. It was during the time that plate tectonics was coming to the forefront of geologic research. I loved the idea of “smash-bang crash-em up continents.”

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I worked in the Lab for Terrestrial Physics at Goddard Space Flight Center. One of our geophysicists had a project on Kodiak Island and other parts of Alaska. She was using high precision GPS to look at strain across fault zones. For the Kodiak part of the campaign she partnered with the local high school. She asked me to add an education component to the field campaign. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had to go on bed rest. I went up to Kodiak and ran the second week of the field campaign with the students. The following year I went back and recruited other schools in Glen Allen, Kenny Lake and Valdez and participated in those trainings and campaigns as well.

Role models/heroes:
Lorie Molitor, my undergraduate advisor at Towson State University. I shied away from science because I was math-phobic and she convinced me that I could do the math—and she was right.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love learning new things, I am fascinated by the discoveries we make at NASA via our robotic flight programs. One of my first jobs at Goddard was mapping Viking imagery of Mars. My “field area” was near the large Martian out-flow channels. At that time, most planetary scientists did not think liquid water could have flowed on Mars. It was a great time to observe and participate in the scientific debate.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to follow your interests and passion…to a career that you truly enjoy. Seek out mentors who can help guide you in your career. Pass it on, and look for opportunities to mentor others.

Favorite website or app:
Titus Canyon (I love flickr and taking pictures of rocks) and nasascience.nasa.gov

Twitter: @geosteph