Field Notes

Volcanic hoodoos in the Davis Mountains in Texas. Photo courtesy Raymond L. Straub Jr., PG

Teaching the next generation

By Raymond L. Straub Jr., PG

Even though I have been a groundwater professional for a number of years, I am still a student. I try to learn something new from every project. I’ve had my fair share of mentors, many of whom have passed on. However, I have never really seen myself as a mentor or teacher because I still feel I have so much left to learn.

This past summer, though, I was asked to provide a professional presentation at an environmental seminar. The purpose of the seminar was to help disseminate information about environmental hazards and pollution.

My presentation was about subsurface and groundwater evaluation. The seminar was well attended. Little did I know in the audience was Dr. James W. Ward, a geoscience professor from Angelo State University’s award-winning Department of Geosciences.

He approached me after my presentation and asked if I would be interested in teaching a few short classes at the university on geoscience, drilling, and groundwater. Ward said he wanted to bring current real world information and experience to his senior level classes to help the students understand the expectations that would be placed on them in the field upon graduation.

I was flattered and agreed to teach the classes, but I actually wondered if he would really call back. As fate would have it, I met him again during the fall and he asked if I was ready to teach— “How about next week?” he said. And just like that I was teaching a university class.

Visualizing Geology

Over the next seven days, I prepared the course outline and made a Power- Point presentation to help the students visualize the material. After some deliberation and taking some cues from my Field Notes articles, I settled on discussing drill site geology, bringing outcrop geology to a smaller scale. If any of you have ever had the experience of working with new field people, you know it can be pretty tough on them to transform from seeing geology in outcrop to interpreting geology on the drill site from a pile of mud and cuttings. It can be overwhelming for some.

During the course of the presentation, we discussed necessary steps and the importance of reviewing available site data prior to going into the field. In addition, we discussed the use of current and historical aerial photos, topographic maps, surface geology maps, drilling logs, geophysical logs, previously published works, and even potential outcrop reviews.

One of the key points of the presentation was:

Understanding drill site geology is more than just classifying soils or rocks from a boring. In order to understand the complexities of the subsurface requires research, careful planning, keen observation, and artistic imagination. A good field hydrogeologist, from the interpretation of drill cuttings, should be able to visualize the subsurface environment. (Straub 2015)

When you agree to be a part of something bigger than yourself, surprising things can happen. I have put on presentations before, but never at a university. I was not sure the kind of response I would receive from the students.

In preparation for the classes, I dug through years of samples I had collected, looking for just the right combination of cuttings. I had decided early on to create an analog of a particular formation. Over the years, I have collected geophysical logs, driller’s logs, cutting sample logs, stratigraphic logs, cores, hand samples, and even photo logs of outcrops for this specific formation. I wanted the students to see how all this information comes together and works in conjunction to provide an image of the subsurface.

The student response was overwhelmingly positive. Even the early morning class was well engaged with the discussion.

It was a pleasure to interact with the students in this learning environment. To be able to engage these students on topics related to our everyday work and have genuine and honest responses with follow-up questions and concerns was refreshing. I was receiving a rare kind of interaction with these students we so rarely see in today’s continuing education classes that are heavily product endorsement driven with little or no interaction from the audience.

During a discussion of a particular slide that represented aquifer material exposed in an outcrop, I asked the students if they noticed anything about the formation makeup. Specifically, the variation in potential hydraulic conductivity of the exposed unit. The question posed was how they would see the formation in drill cuttings and how would the aquifer response curve look in a pumping test.

Since this class was made up of predominately senior level hydrogeology students and several faculty members, Dr. Ward became engaged with the students’ responses. At one point, he said, “You should be taking notes now. This is a good final exam question and you will see it again.”

We went on to discuss soil and rock classification systems and various drill cutting analysis techniques. Some students were very interested in the cutting samples—how they compared to the hand samples taken from the outcrop. One student in particular was amazed how much different the sandstone cuttings resembled just loose sand and not the sandstone from the hand sample.

It is priceless the value gained by students from an understanding of the drilling process and how the native rock looks once it is drilled.

We took time to think about the professional work product and to understand the importance of doing good quality fieldwork. Because, without good fieldwork and good data, all other subsequent use of the data will be invalid and they would be directly responsible.

During the last portion of the class, as we discussed various topics, I displayed a few hard-won drill site tips for them to contemplate. Some of my favorites:

  • Understand the basics of the chosen drilling method prior to going into the field
  • Be respectful of the driller and crew
  • Ensure you and the driller have the same scope of work with the same expectations
  • Know the drill stem lengths
  • Do not work with your back to the rig
  • Listen to the sound of the drilling rig
  • Do not taste or inhale the samples
  • And my favorite: Get out of the car, stay off your phone, and work the samples.

There were several good technical questions concerning geoscience and drilling techniques, but for the most part, the students were deeply concerned with potential employment opportunities. Many of the students entered the geoscience degree program at the height of the energy boom with aspirations of high wages and long-term careers. It is amazing how fast things change and yet how much they stay the same.

Parting Thoughts

We as professionals spend a considerable amount of time focusing on our day-to-day business with the occasional opportunity to learn something new and few opportunities to give back. In the course of your career, can you remember any special someone who took time from his or her very busy career to stop and explain a complicated concept or reach out a hand to a struggling fellow professional? Can you remember the last time you did it?

I was not sure about teaching a course at a university, but the students and professors reminded me how important it is for professionals to interact with the next generation. Just as we were once the recipients of guidance from the previous professional generation, it is important for us to pass it along and give back to the next.

References

Straub, Raymond L. Jr. 2015. “Angelo State University Department of Geosciences: Drill Site Geology—Outcrop Geology on a Smaller Scale.” San Angelo, Texas: Straub Corp. 23.


Raymond L. Straub Jr., PG, is the president of Straub Corp. in Stanton, Texas, a Texas-registered geoscience firm and specialized groundwater services firm. He is a Texas-licensed professional geoscientist and holds master driller licenses in Texas and New Mexico and a master pump installer license in Texas. He can be reached at raymond@straubcorporation.com.

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