Discussions with a Role Model: Careers in Science

WES_NMWhen I met Wesley von Dassow in Panama this summer, I was blown away at his knowledge about the geology and plate tectonics at the localities we were working in. Everywhere we went, Wes would point out faults in the strata, formations and outcrops, and all sorts of geological information coded in highly specific and impressive scientific vocabulary. I remember thinking, “Wow! This guy looks so young and yet knows so much! I wish my students could be here!” Working alongside PCP-Pire interns such as Wes, Michelle, Evan, and Robin greatly contributed to my field experiences in Panama. These students had learned so much, they shared their knowledge so generously, and they coached us through scientific field processes like seasoned professionals. I can’t imagine our Panamanian experiences being complete without them and I thought that it was so cool that these students would eventually be back in the states to go on to graduate studies. I never dreamed that one of these interns would be willing to make the journey all the way out to the reservation where I teach, and speak with my students about paths that lead to scientific research, world exploration, and the excitement of discovery!
Last week, my students I prepared to have Wes join us in our class for a day, what a blast! Wes participated in our 2015 Geography Bee, prepared an excellent location-specific presentation, and was so flexible in the classroom when we thought, “Hey! Let’s go outside and see what we can find!”.
We began with a brief introduction of Wesley and how he and I met this summer in Panama working with GABI-RET. Wes connected to the students in my middle school classroom by explaining his interests, origin, and what led him to science. He also shared with my students that it was by chance that he came across geology as an emphasis and passion for study, and he really did a great job letting students know that we can apply the scientific method to our own lives: experimenting, trying new things, and most of all, it is “100% O.K.” if you try something and do not like it. This is great advice to bring to middle schoolers who are learning to navigate decisions and choices. After that, Wes connected to our local area and culture by discussing how Shiprock (a local sacred place) and petrified wood (a local and common find) came to be and why they occur in our area. Students were intrigued by the geological processes and carefully studied Wes’ presentation charts and diagrams, and other visuals that he built into the presentation. After this discussion, we thought, “Let’s go outside!” and we poked around in the sand and rocks that surround our school on the Colorado Plateau. Kids picked up handfuls of geological oddities, interesting mineral samples, and the occasional chunk of common gravel. They couldn’t wait to run up to Wes and ask him about it. We gathered up our specimens and laid them out on a table. Wes discussed how to classify these rocks, asked the students questions, answered theirs, and all I could see while looking around at their faces were expressions of amazement, aw, interest, intrigue, curiosity, wonder…does it get any better than that?

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